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the road not taken looks real good now (and it always leads to you)

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It had been an unlikely friendship, to say the least (but the really good ones often are).

Dani, a high-strung overachiever who sneered openly at anyone she perceived not to be trying hard enough in this, the most important of gateways to the future, high school.

Who speed-walked around campus like she had a demon trailing her on various errands for teachers and clubs with an air of authority tinged with panic.

Who maybe did have a demon she was constantly trying to outrun by filling her days with projects, commitments, causes, and resume-boosting extracurricular activities.

Who wore just enough of the right clothes, could sing along to the right music, and – this was key – had the right boyfriend close by to show that she was a normal teenage girl, and god help anyone who dared suggest otherwise.

Jamie, a transfer student who did just enough homework to grasp the material, holding herself to a personal standard of mastery rather than the arbitrariness of grades (but who never let it fall below a C anyway, no sense in that).

Whose typical positioning before school, between bells, and at lunch was sprawled across an entire picnic table bench, one knee cocked high, sipping a vending machine Gatorade and tossing her curls back in unruly laughter at something someone said.

Who had arrived at her transatlantic adoptive family – a miracle in itself, a teenager being adopted, even with a sweet toddler brother in tow – with so much relief at escaping the demons of her childhood that she was done caring what anyone thought by the time she sauntered into Central High School for the first time.

Who relished that newfound freedom like ice cream with a spoon, wearing her scuffed boots and thrifted overalls one day, ripped band tee that flirted dangerously with dress code the next, and who, to the mild scandal of the school (she wasn’t nearly popular enough to stop the presses with even the most sensational of news) had come out as gay the first week of her junior year.

-

They agree that they met a few weeks after the start of school Jamie’s first year – both sophomores, Jamie brand new at school, but already in such plainly defined different social circles that neither was exactly sure, later on, how – even whether – they’d actually been introduced.

They agree that there were a few tense weeks in the beginning, each feeling the other out, trying to understand where she stood, and honestly, trying to figure out why this girl so unlike herself, so unlike anyone she’d ever spent significant time with, was so easy to talk to, to be around.

They agree that once each had decided they didn’t need to understand, could just relax and enjoy this out-of-the-ordinary but so-very-needed connection, that their friendship was the best thing to come out of the universal hell that is high school.

They discovered that having a best friend who’s not very much like you – not in the superficial ways that seem to matter in high school at least – has untold advantages that too many people miss out on. Having spent time in different classes all week, they each brought a fresh trove of stories and rumors to weekend sleepovers. Their different interests kept their conversations interesting and gave them ready ways to support each other – Dani the loudest audience member at Jamie’s FFA competitions as Jamie correctly gave the going price for fiddlehead ferns, securing the Floriculture win; Jamie campaigning for Dani’s student council runs each year and cheering at her sparsely-attended track meets.  

For whatever reason, they never gel into a friend “group” – Dani has her boyfriend, Eddie, a fixture in her life since childhood, and a few other friends; Jamie has a ragtag little band of her own, but they never formed a unified crew, as such. Naturally, sometimes Dani’s boyfriend, Eddie, would be around when they were hanging at Dani’s house. Or maybe one or two other people might join them for movies or dinners out occasionally, but for the most part, Dani and Jamie were their own thing, a special thing, held apart from everything and everyone else.

They spent untold hours together over those nearly-three years: lounging in hammocks in Dani’s backyard on fall afternoons; riding around in Jamie’s truck, bought with money saved from a summer landscaping gig, slurping milkshakes and belting out pop songs neither would care to have anyone else know she enjoyed; hunched over Jamie’s kitchen table doing separate homework together, Dani working out calculus equations and patiently guiding Jamie through geometry proofs and laughing good naturedly at her outbursts (I just KNOW it’s a bloody triangle; MIKEY knows that’s a bloody triangle, why would anyone need proof of that?!).

If they sometimes cuddled into the couch a little closer than strictly necessary during a scary movie; if they spent many weekends sleeping half the day away in one bed in Dani’s room even though her bedroom set comprised a matched pair of twins, well, that was to be expected; just the way of close friends. To Jamie’s mind, this was what the straight girls around her always seemed to be doing – enjoying a damn sight more physical contact than she ever got on a day-to-day basis, and no one bats an eye. The way Jamie’s body would buzz if Dani’s waterfall of blonde hair cascaded onto her own shoulder while watching TV was just an unfortunate side effect of their mismatched sexualities, but Jamie was mature enough not to let that get in the way of the best damn friendship she’d ever had. For her part, Dani brushed off the butterflies tickling her stomach as she and Jamie whispered in the dark, heads huddled together on one pillow, reasoning that this was fine, fine, because a) she had a boyfriend, and b) it wasn’t like they were kissing or anything, and also c) she did kiss her boyfriend, so. Not a problem, not cheating, not anything weird. But also not something that anyone else should know about.

Their disagreements started midway through their senior year, when all attention was on plans being made for their capital-f Futures. Dani had applied to a raft of universities across the country, no surprises there, and was already receiving early acceptance letters from many. And yet. She told Jamie one afternoon that she’d been thinking of going ahead and accepting Iowa State’s offer of a full ride.

To her friend’s incredulous you must be joking look, she tried to justify: “Eddie’s already signed on there, it’s close, and a full scholarship has always been the goal. Even if I get into one of these reach schools, my mom can’t pay for it.” Jamie had been furious, accused her of “following that dumb pretentious arsehole further into fuck-all nowhere, when you could be anywhere, Dani, anywhere.” This had circled round to Dani accusing Jamie of holding herself back, “Look in the mirror, Jamie! YOU could be anywhere, but you didn’t even apply! Do you honestly want to be stuck here forever?”

They made up after that, but it was a shaky truce; the foundations of their friendship had been cracked and neither was taking proper time to repair them. The one time they tried, they ended up rehashing the same fight, caught in a nasty spiral that dragged each of their scariest vulnerabilities – the things no one but the most intimate even know – out into a harsh light: you’re trying too hard to be something you’re notyou don’t try enoughat least I know who I amsorry I define myself by the difference I want to make in this worldbetter that than defining yourself by a boydon’t bring him into thisyou’re throwing it away for himyou’re throwing it away to feel safemaybe I like it heremaybe you’re scared and you’re coastingmaybe you’re trying too hard – and on and on. 

So they ended up in a stalemate, marching on stubbornly through the last three, then two, the one more month of greasy cafeteria pizza at a too-quiet lunch table, halfhearted hellos at their next-door lockers each morning, final exams studied for alone and celebrated separately. Then came graduation, and Dani off to a summer internship, and Jamie off to work – the landscaping summer job had become a regular thing; she had a natural talent for it, and loved it besides.

They’d hugged and shed a few tears in Jamie’s driveway the night before Dani left, but at that point it had been weeks and weeks since they’d spent more than half an hour together one-on-one, and their parting felt natural, if bittersweet. The soft ending of a friendship that came at the right time to two lucky people, who were now on to the rest of their lives made better for the experience, but not intent on taking it with them.

Since then, they’d kept in touch in the most casual of ways. For a while after graduation, there were text messages of inside jokes, the replies spread across weeks, then months. There were happy birthday care packages the first year, calls the next, then texts, then one year, nothing at all. Jamie learned of Dani and Eddie’s engagement on facebook, thought of sending a congratulations message, then thought better of it.

When Jamie heard about what happened to Eddie – horrible tragedy, a month before the wedding, Dani apparently nearly silent with grief – she didn’t know what to do. She ended up sending a lavish arrangement of flowers to the funeral and attending herself as well, but ducked out of the receiving line after a nod to Dani from the back of the room.  

-

The only other times, up until tonight, that they’ve actually seen each other in the intervening seven years were holidays, Dani and Eddie back in town for family gatherings, Jamie still living in Davenport and climbing her way up the ladder at the landscaping company, then five years after graduation, splitting off to launch her own business specializing in rare plants. By unspoken agreement, much of their age cohort flocks to the same spot each year on the nights before Christmas to escape smothering family, reunite with old friends, show off new lovers, rekindle things with old ones. 

Harrington’s is nothing special, not really, but it was part of growing up in Davenport. As a pub that served food as well as stale beer and terrible cocktails, it begrudgingly accepted high school students as patrons, and so it had been fashionable to go to lunch there on days off school, to pick up a late dinner after a basketball game or theater practice. And so by habit, it became the go-to drinks-after-work pub for those who stayed in town after graduation and the safe landing spot for those coming back to town after time away. Its perpetually-sticky bar and not-great service are balanced out by rock-bottom prices and the provision of several different environments ranging from ear-splitting jukebox dance floor to a row of cozy low-lit booths in a back room. 

These annual run-ins between Dani and Jamie have been cordial, but tense, held at arm’s length: a once-familiar animal turned untrustworthy, it could snap and bite at any moment; resist the urge to reach out to touch, no sudden movements. That feeling, that pit-of-the-stomach yearning-sadness is what strikes Jamie first when, at seven in the evening three days before Christmas, she spots Dani’s tell-tale blonde ponytail bobbing a ways down that long, under-attended bar. She’s trying – desperately from the set of her lips – to flag down the harried bartender, who seems to be pointedly ignoring her.

Jamie takes a deep breath and a deep swig of her ale and considers her options.

1) She could leave right now; she doesn’t even really want to be here, doesn’t care about many of these people, especially not the out-of-towners. Her friends are the people who stuck around, who have built careers and businesses and families alongside her, who don’t look down their nose at this place they call home. It could be a kindness, not to bother Dani with her presence. They weren’t exactly on good terms – not bad ones either, just not much of anything – but there was still a sting there, at least for her, and she would bet it was there for Dani too.

2) She could just sit here, stare into her glass and hope Dani doesn’t see her, or doesn’t come over. Leave it up to her to make the first move to socialize, if she wants to. That doesn’t seem fair, somehow, given the situation with Eddie and the fact that Jamie feels like this is her home turf, so she should be welcoming, or at least acknowledge Dani’s presence.

Or 3) she could go and save Dani some time, get her a beer – she can see now that Claudia – the bartender – is being a bitch on purpose, probably because Dani is so pretty and Claudia has had a rough go of it when it comes to pretty women stealing her men. Three times while she’s been deliberating now, Claudia has sailed past Dani’s proffered credit card on the way to other – local and known and therefore unthreatening – patrons. As she watches, Dani looks around with a growing sense of anxiety, and moves to put her card back in her wallet, slides her arm back into her coat.

Jamie moves.

“Hey there, bit early to be turning in, yeah?” she touches Dani gently on the sleeve, smiles despite herself into blue eyes when she turns.

“Well, not if I can’t get a damn beer. What’s her deal, huh?” Dani indicates Claudia, who’s passing by behind the bar once again, with a flick of her eyes and a tilt of her head.   

Jamie smiles inwardly at how they picked up as though in the middle of a conversation, not the stilted, awkward beginning of one. “Ah, Claudia can be…inhospitable. Probably in the wrong line of work, honestly. Let me help.” She steps to the bar and up onto the footrest to make up for her short stature. “Claud! A lager here!”

When the drink materializes seconds later, Dani stares back in disbelief. “I’m a regular,” Jamie shrugs. Dani takes a grateful sip, and in the pause, the awkwardness that they evaded at first catches up.

“So…” Jamie tries to start, jamming her hands into her jeans pockets and swaying, “you’re…here for Christmas?” Most obvious non-thing in the world, but it’s all she can think of.

“Yeah,” Dani replies, looking positively miserable about the fact. “Staying at mom’s. Kinda wish I wasn’t.” Her frown is amplified by a lip stain whose bold color surprises Jamie a bit.

“Wasn’t staying with your mom, or wasn’t here for Christmas?”

“Either. Both.” Dani shrugs. She looks tired, and truly regretful. Jamie wonders whether it’s about her or the general scenario, then feels guilty and stupid for imagining she could still affect Dani Clayton’s mood so profoundly. “You know my mom. she’s been Dan-yelling at me all week.”

Jamie smiles wryly at the inside joke, nearing a decade old at this point but still revealing a hardness to Dani’s home life that hurts like an old bruise.

“Sorry. And sorry about Eddie, too. The funeral was nice.” It’s the wrong thing to say, but Jamie doesn’t know what the right thing is, knows she has to say something to acknowledge what happened.

“Thanks. It was…it’s been…a bad time.” Dani looks down, and Jamie’s wondering if she should have brought it up after all.

“Yeah, would be.” After a moment of silence (as silent as it can be in a loud bar), Jamie decides that the next right thing to do is change the subject.

“So, you’re at UCLA, yeah? What’s that like? I’ve never been to California.” That she knows where Dani has been living, and that she’s in a graduate program for elementary education, is only a little embarrassing.

“Yeah, I am. I don’t see much of the city, though, mostly I’m in class. It’s sunny.” Dani is barely holding up her end of the conversation, which would normally piss Jamie off, but again, dead fiancée equals a pass, for one night at least.

It’s like Dani hears her thoughts, though, because she snaps back into the conversation on the next beat: “What about you? Mom told me you started your own business last year – that must be hard.”

Jamie feels her mouth quirk into a half-smile at the revelation that Dani also knows what she’s been up to, but chalks it up to small-town gossip, which to Karen Clayton is basically an Olympic sport. “Yeah, two years ago actually. Left the company I’d been working for—”

“Mr. Green’s!” Dani interjects the name of the company with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Green’s,” Jamie says, eyebrows knitting together. “Anyway, left Mr. Green’s to specialize in rare plants, mostly wholesale, sell them to landscapers for the country clubs, florists for the fancy weddings, that sort.”

“Wow,” Dani says, and it looks like she means it. It makes Jamie feel self-conscious to have this much attention on her, and she finds herself rambling to fill the silence.

“Yeah, I like the wholesale bit. Not too many people on the day-to-day, and I get to spend a lot of time in the greenhouses and the orchards. Bought some land north of town, it’s a bit of a commute but it’s nice, good views.” She finally stops herself. “What about you? What’s your work—school?—like?” 

“It’s a lot of writing, really.” Dani shakes her head, looking chagrined again. “I don’t know if it was the right choice. I spend so much time trying to get funding for my research and not very much time to actually do it, never mind getting it out into the world. And my co-authors are a nightmare – one’s up for tenure this year and has his head all the way up his ass and the other can’t handle a revise-and-resubmit to save his own life.” Dani’s being pretentious, and she knows it, but she can’t stop herself. It’s her only defense in the face of Jamie’s easy self-assurance, the way she just fits into the cozy, just-right, Jamie life she’s built.

Jamie doesn’t have much to say to that; the world of academia is as foreign to her as Antarctica. So she nods, tries to look sympathetic, takes the final drink of her warming beer. This conversation has taken a lot of effort for her, the searching for the right thing and the eggshells and the time bombs of memories with Dani, and she’s thinking seriously of making her first drink her only and calling it a night.   

Again, it’s like Dani reads her face, because then Dani’s reaching out to take Jamie’s elbow, saying, “Hey, it’s loud out here and I honestly don’t want to talk to anybody else. Everybody treats me like I’m either a pity case or some kind of hero and…I’m not. Either. Anyway. Want to go sit in back, catch up for real?”

Jamie’s never been able to say no to Dani when she looks at her with that hopeful, tiny smile, eyes open wide in a look that somehow says both you know you want to and please, say you want to.  It just fucking melts Jamie, the same as it did the day it convinced her to teach Dani to drive stick on her truck (a hilarious disaster), all the times it won the argument of rom com versus thriller (fucking Meg Ryan), the times it convinced Jamie to let Eddie tag along on whatever adventure they had planned. So, she nods, signals Claudia for another round, and follows Dani back to a quiet table.

To their mutual great surprise, they spend the next two hours talking. Actually talking, not exchanging niceties and where-ya-beens and how’re your parents, but comparing observations of the way the world has changed as they’ve grown up, of watching their parents age, of realizing the holidays are a lot less magical and a lot more stressful year after year. They’re a few drinks in, tipsy, and it’s helped them settle into an old rhythm, well-worn and comfortable, by the time they circle back around to the herd of elephants in the room.

“I missed you, you know.” Dani says, biting her lip and looking at Jamie softly.

“Was right here.” Jamie replies, right back on the edge of defensive. She tempers it with an offering: “Missed you too.”

“I know you didn’t like Eddie, you never did. I’m sorry I let him come between us.” An offering in return, an out, an admission, made with eyes cast downward. 

“Wasn’t that,” Jamie says, though it was partially. She pauses, thinks how to explain without speaking ill of the dead, without sparking a fight far too old to rekindle. Dani looks up, lifts an eyebrow, waiting for more. “I didn’t like…what being with him did to you. Felt like it made you smaller, less you somehow. I just…really loved you the way you were, and I didn’t want you to change for…for anyone.” She lets loose a long, shaky breath at having laid that much truth on the table. She and Dani had loved one another. Deeply. They’d said as much to one another too – said it before bed, when getting off the phone. In some very uncomfortable ways, Dani had been her first love, but she won’t say that.

Dani sighs, puckers her lips, works her jaw back and forth, eyes locked on Jamie’s. Jamie wonders for a moment if she’s said too much, but decides quickly that these words have been in her too long, they need airing out, and she has nothing to lose but her sadness at losing her greatest friendship – that’s also been in her too long, taking up space. She’s bracing herself for Dani’s retort, wondering how much of it she’ll end up apologizing for, when Dani says instead: “You were right.” 

Now it’s Jamie’ turn to wait, knowing there’s more, much more, to come.

“We weren’t…Eddie wasn’t…I shouldn’t have been with him.” Jamie can’t help it, her eyebrows fly to her hairline. This is quite the reversal, especially for someone who was due to get married eight months ago. Dani continues, “I should never have been with him.”

“What do you mean?” Jamie asks, genuinely confused and intensely curious as to where this conversation is going. (And more than a bit relieved that it’s not going in any of the six ways she’d been dreading.)

“I…we were breaking up, when he died. We had broken up, I had…I broke up with him.” Dani’s mouth wobbles, she’s holding back tears.

“Oh shit, Dani, I’m so sorry, that’s – I hadn’t heard that,” Jamie says, because, in addition to the fact of the thing Dani’s telling her, that she hasn’t heard about it through the local grapevine is an equal wonder.

“Yeah, nobody knows. I haven’t told anybody else. It happened…it happened right after. Like, right after. Our families, everyone…everyone thinks we were still…” she shakes her head.

“Shit, Dani.” Words are failing Jamie, at what Dani’s revealing, what it means, what she’s been carrying, and that she’s choosing to share it with Jamie. She wants to ask why Dani broke it off. She wants to ask how the hell she’s still standing. But Dani looks like she’s barely holding it together, so instead she leans across the table conspiratorially, widens her eyes, lowers her voice: “Wait. Did you push him?”

It’s a risk, a huge one, one she wouldn’t’ve taken with any other human. And it pays off. Dani throws her head back so hard it hits the back of the wooden booth, her laughter ringing through the room like church bells. The grin stays on her face as she says: “What the fuck, Taylor?”

The old nickname, the way Dani shows all her teeth when she’s smiling unselfconsciously, the way Dani’s hands splay on the table toward Jamie, holding herself up from the relief of laughter – all of it hits Jamie right in the stomach. The nostalgia, the bittersweet knowledge that this level of intimacy and comfort could have been here all along, the…something else going on behind Dani’s eyes now.

Dani’s breathing easier, but there’s still something bothering her, something that needs to come out. Jamie waits, watches her, and the drunker part of her brain wonders if it’s appropriate or necessary to reach out and touch one of Dani’s hands that have come onto her side of the table.

After a few long moments in which an inscrutable battle plays out on Dani’s features, she gathers herself up, sits a bit taller, and says: “I broke up with him because I’m gay.”

A million questions swim into Jamie’s brain at once, but chief among them are: How long has she known? and Why is she telling me this? Somehow, she fights through and asks the correct next one: “Did you tell Eddie?”

“Yeah, I told him that was why – a part of why – I couldn’t marry him, couldn’t be with him any longer.”

“Oof. Jesus, I’m so sorry.”

“Right? Not exactly the coming out you hope for,” Dani’s more than a little drunk now, slurs the words a bit, but Jamie’s thankful for that – it’s taking the edge off a really hard disclosure, one she doubts very much would have surfaced at all if not for the alcohol, and one it sounds like Dani really needs to get off her chest to someone, anyone.  

Jamie has no clue what to say to this, so she says the truest thing: “I don’t know what to say.”

Dani shrugs, gives a small, sad smile. “Nothing to say, I guess. Or, too much to say?” A near-silent laugh escapes. “I’m not sure.”

They’re sitting, silent, letting the information sit in the air for a minute, when Jamie sees Dani’s eyes track up and over her shoulder, hears a very drunk, very deep voice boom: “Daniiiiiiiii, oh shit, it’s Dani Clayton everybody!” Dani’s face is plastered with panic, frozen, as three ex-football stars saunter over, post up next to their table. “Dani, fuck, what happened to Ed was seriously fucked up.” The one in the lead isn’t reading the room at all, or at the most generous, he’s misreading Dani’s distraught face as one of grief, and…trying to comfort her?

Jamie isn’t sure what this guy’s aim is, but Dani clearly doesn’t need or want this, and on top of that, he’s leaning into her space, his big coat crowding into her hair, and so Jamie turns her body to face him, says in her most assertive voice, “Hey fellas, Dani and I were actually just about to hit the ladies’. Powder our noses and all that. Be back in two shakes,” and she shoulders her way past the large man, hauls Dani up by the hand and drags her down the narrow hallway and into through a door marked Womenfolk.

Once inside the single room, door locked safe from large intrusive men, Jamie hops up on the sink, hoping to both project an aura of casual calm she doesn’t feel and to put some space between herself and Dani. There’s a nervous energy between them that she hasn’t had time to interrogate properly, and it makes her kick her feet lightly against the cabinets of the vanity like a kid. Dani is leaning against the opposite wall, hands clenched in fists by her sides, still looking silently at Jamie.

“So…” Jamie starts, running one hand across the back of her head. She’s at war with herself, her eagerness to bring this conversation to closure, get out of the bar and back to the safety of her own house, battling with a wicked curiosity for more details. “That’s big, Dani. Uh, congratulations. I mean, on the…not the…” she knows she sounds daft, is hoping that Dani’s got enough beer in her not to notice.

Jamie’s hopes are granted; Dani just laughs nervously, looks down at her own hands, unclenched now, but wringing: “Thanks. It…was overdue. I put it off…for a long time. I guess I was hoping it would go away, hoping I’d grow out of it-”

Jamie can’t help herself, she balks at the last. Dani’s not so drunk she doesn’t register Jamie’s change of posture, her skeptical-bordering-on-offended expression, and she holds her hands up in a wait gesture, continues: “but that was wrong. It was so, so wrong, and so cowardly, and I hurt Eddie. I hurt a lot of people.” Her voice goes trembly at the end, and her eyes flick up to Jamie’s.  

Jamie sighs. This is a lot of big feelings coming from an encounter she thought would be about three minutes long up at the bar. Yet, whatever’s passed between them, she can’t watch Dani drowning in this particular whirlpool and not try to help.

“Hey, Dani, listen. I’m sure Eddie was hurting after you told him. That’s normal, and that’s his right. And yeah, you could have told him sooner, but you didn’t, and I know you had your reasons. As for what happened after, you had no control over that. You’ve told me you didn’t push him, and I believe you.” The joke evokes a wavery smile.

“Ah, there we go. Chin up, Clayton, and welcome to the club.” After a beat, she adds, “and fuck what anybody else thinks about it, any of it.” Jamie gives her a lopsided grin, and imagining her job is done, hops down from the sink, says: “The goddamn all-star team has probably given up by now, moved on to some other table. Safe to head back out there.” Before she can make it to the door, though, Dani’s stepped in front of her, stops her with a hand to the arm.

“No, wait, I’m…not done. I know I’ve fucked up my own life beyond recognition at this point, and I deserve that. But you also deserve to know the whole truth.”

Jamie, waits, wary.

“I wanted to tell you, specifically, in person. I thought you might be here – it’s the only reason I came out to this…shit show.” Jamie has to laugh at that assessment; it’s correct, after all. She can hear her former classmates escalating into sloppiness through the shut door of the bathroom, knows the local rideshares will do a roaring trade tonight at Harrington’s alone.

“Okay…because I’m the only other lesbian you know? You live in LA, Dani, that can’t be true.” Jamie’s hedging, nervous.

“No, because you are…you were…” Dani is looking frantically around the bathroom like there’s a teleprompter hidden in one of the corners. Finally, she settles her blue gaze back on Jamie, and looking like she’s steeled herself, says, “Because it should have been you, okay? It always was, it always should have been you, Jamie.”

Jamie’s ears are exploding, full all at once of her own heartbeat and the music from the front room and most of all of Dani’s voice, so familiar but so lost to time, saying her name. It’s too much. It’s too much for her to process, it’s too much for this place, full and loud and haunted with high school memories, it’s too much for Dani in her current state.

Later, Jamie will realize that she didn’t say that’s inappropriate or I can’t hear this or even what are you talking about. What she says is, “Dani, listen, you’re drunk. We should talk about this tomorrow.”

But right now, she doesn’t have time to think, because Dani’s closing the last few steps between them at a rapid pace, countering, “Or we could right now,” and she’s pinning Jamie against the bathroom door. In the next second, Dani is kissing her, kissing her like she’s been waiting a month, a year, ten years to kiss her, and has one chance to make up for it. Dani’s hands are buried in Jamie’s hair, holding on tight, and Dani’s tongue is stroking across Jamie’s lips and teasing into Jamie’s mouth.

Jamie is a big enough person – and a big enough lesbian – to admit that she doesn’t stop Dani right away. When Dani’s lips hit hers, her body time travels, and she’s fifteen and curled around Dani in a dark basement on movie night, sixteen and laughing with Dani in dazzling sunlight in the cab of her truck, seventeen and waking in Dani’s arms in a too-small-for-two twin bed. Her whole being is buzzing again, just like then, but with years of missing Dani piled on top of all that history. So, if Jamie opens her mouth and accepts Dani’s searching tongue for a few beats, if she brings her hands up to bracket Dani’s face for a moment, well, that’s to be expected; some things are just overdue.  

But that doesn’t mean they’re right. When she feels Dani’s hands fist into the fabric of her shirt, pulling Jamie’s back up off the door and rocking their hips together clumsily, she knows that’s the boundary. She ducks her head to one side, escaping hot, panting kisses that show no sign of slowing. She places her hands on Dani’s waist and gently pushes her back. She looks calmly but firmly into Dani’s eyes.

She says, low and even but kind: “Not here. Not like this.” Dani looks back, silent and just as crestfallen as Jamie expected, eyes bleary and lips smudged. “Another night, maybe. Let’s talk about this tomorrow. Okay?”

Dani nods weakly, her energy somewhere between exhausted and crushed, and lets herself be led out of the bar to the parking lot where a frigid wind has kicked up. Jamie says aloud that they’ll both call for rides to disabuse any notions of driving.

If while waiting on their rides to come Jamie stands a little closer to Dani than is strictly necessary under the bar’s striped awning, if she doesn’t move away when Dani leans in closer still at a particularly sharp icy gust, if when giving Dani a rough hug goodbye she reacts to Dani’s nuzzling into her neck by bringing her palm to Dani’s brow, smoothing her hair back – well, that’s all to be expected.  

Chapter Text

To her intense surprise, when Jamie wakes the next morning, there are a series of text messages from an unknown number waiting on her phone.

[213-872-3592]

6:43 am

Hi it’s Dani

Got your number from my mom, hope
that’s not too creepy

Anyway

Just wanted to apologize for last night.
I think I said more than I meant to. And I
definitely didn’t mean to attack you in a 
bar bathroom. 

Aside from being absolutely shocked that Dani is awake and functional after the number of beers she put away last night, Jamie’s also surprised – pleasantly so, she thinks – that Dani’s being so forthright. She’d kind of figured they’d treat last night’s…events…the way they’d treated the other uncomfortable things between them in recent years: act like they never happened and try like hell to make sure they didn’t happen again.

Actually, scratch that. She’s downright proud of Dani for owning this – for stepping up like the brave Dani Clayton she’d known and loved as her best friend, before so much and so little got in the way. It’s to that old Dani that she crafts her response:

7:51 am

Hey good morning.

Didn’t mean to? Or Sorry about? bc
you kind of moved with purpose

That the next reply comes immediately is no surprise.

7:53 am

Teasing is uncalled for

But you’re right. I’m sorry is what
I should have said. What I did was
not acceptable.

Apology accepted

She considers adding a smiley face or something – maybe a flower emoji? – because the words look so curt sitting there on the screen alone. Jamie hates communicating anything more complicated than a mulch order via text – as much as she avoids overly-involved entanglements with other people, she prefers to interact as nature intended: where she’s able to read their eyes, their faces, their body language for the little hints of true meaning that no tiny cartoon can convey.

But she notices Dani’s typing again already, so she waits.

7:57 am

I realized this morning I didn’t even
ask if you have someone. In your life
I mean. If that’s the case I’m really
fucking sorry and I hope I didn’t make
anything difficult for you with what
I did.

Haha, no, I don’t “have anyone
in my life.” I’m just me, as usual.

Are you sure this isn’t Karen
texting? Who tf says “have
someone in your life?”

God you’re right she’s starting to get
to me

Jamie smiles in spite of herself. This back-and-forth banter is something they’ve always been good at. It’s also something that’s always felt right on the edge of normal-friends and more-than-friends, and it’s no different today.

Actually, it’s a little different today, because now she knows how it feels to have Dani’s weight pushing against hers, Dani’s tongue teasing around her lips. She hastily adds:

And hey, we don’t have to talk
about this anymore. Seriously.
It’s ok.

The screen goes still for a full minute, then two, then three. See, this, she hates. Is Dani jumping for joy right now at getting let off the hook? Is she upset? Is she distracted because the waiter just came by with her blueberry pancakes? The guessing game is exhausting and it’s not how Jamie is planning to spend this rare day off.

A short while later, as she’s standing idly by her electric kettle, awaiting the friendly bubbling sound that means the human revival juice will be hers soon, the reply comes:

8:11 am

What if I want to talk about it
more?

If that’s ok with you I mean

Yeah, that’s ok with me. Are
you free later today?

Yes! Great excuse to get out of this
house. When and where? 

They make plans to meet up that afternoon on a slowly revitalizing street not far from their old school, Jamie promising to show Dani the hip new coffee shop that moved in last year, maybe take a walk around the park. It’ll do them good to have this conversation outdoors, Jamie thinks; today’s brisk weather is ideal for an airing-out.

Jamie doesn’t get much done in the intervening hours. Usually on a day off she tackles an item or two from the fix-it list on her kitchen whiteboard. Her little blue house on the north side of town isn’t falling down, by any means, but it is a fixer-upper, built in the 1950s, and she keeps busy with an endless list that spans minor repairs to DIY renovations.

Today, however, after several false starts tightening a leaky bathroom faucet handle – she can’t seem to find the correct wrench size, and her eyes keep wandering to her phone, looking for notifications – she calls it. It’s a full-on vacation day. She puts a record on with the volume low, makes a sandwich, and kicks back on her worn plaid couch, eager to finish her latest library book. She still twitches her eyes toward her phone every few pages, but the time passes.

-

Dani shows up right on time, as always, walks up in a puffy purple coat that Jamie muses can’t come in very useful in LA, a thick knit headband around her ears that allows her ponytail to do what it does best, swinging with every bouncy step. She looks excited, Jamie realizes. She’s not dreading this, she’s looking forward to it. Like I am. She takes a steadying breath, digs her hands into the pockets of her own thoroughly broken-in canvas parka.

Jamie steers Dani toward a brick building that used to be a pawn shop but is now splashed with a colorful mural down one side and a sign in a trendy typewriter font that reads Blackbird Coffee & Tea. Inside is bustling with busy shoppers and large families out for a treat. The old building’s acoustics are abysmal, and they can scarcely hear one another over the din of excited holiday voices, so they order without delay and make for the exit quickly once their names are called and steaming paper cups collected.

Back outside on the sidewalk, navigating clumps of dirty snow left from the last storm, Dani wastes no time in pouncing. “Did I hear you say Chai latte? What, were they out of Earl Grey? That’s dangerously close to a coffee beverage; what has happened to you?”

Jamie just laughs, shrugs. Things change, she thinks to herself, whether you’re here to see them or not. They set a course for the nearby park, and Jamie waits for Dani to pick up wherever she’d like; as Jamie sees it, Dani called this meeting, so it’s up to her to steer the conversation. Dani seems to sense as much, because she waits to begin until they’ve turned off the main street and onto a quieter sidewalk, where she can turn to look directly at Jamie without risk of being run down by a mom on a stocking stuffing mission.

“So. Again, I just wanna say I’m sorry for how I acted last night.” She stops Jamie before she can deliver the I said don’t worry about it that’s on the tip of her tongue – “There’s no excuse for dumping a load of new information on someone then jumping them in the bathroom.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of what happened, huh?” Jamie answers the intent of Jamie’s statement rather than the funny phrasing. If they’re going to talk about it, there’s no sense sugarcoating: it’s not her style, and already this conversation has the feel of a truth-telling summit, a chance for reconciliation that she’s taking more and more seriously.

“Yeah,” Dani acknowledges. “I…if I’m being honest, I think I did that because it…” she stops, looks at Jamie with helpless, pleading eyes. As if she’s asking permission, Jamie thinks.

“Go ahead,” Jamie nods once, encouraging. “Not gonna scare me off now. I’ve got my chai latte here, I’m not gonna run.” 

Dani starts again. “I think I did that because…it’s been a long time coming.”

Jamie waits, quiet but projecting a calm air of I’m definitely not freaking out and it’s okay to keep talking. Inwardly, though, she’s thinking: Okay, this isn’t exactly new information, she basically told me as much last night. But it feels new and big to her. Where is this going?

“I mean,” Dani takes another run at it, “it’s not the first time I’ve wanted to…to do that. With you I mean. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize – let myself realize – that I’ve wanted to do that for a really long time.” She rolls her eyes from one side to the other, emphasizing: “Really long.” Jamie bites down on a smile at Dani’s uncharacteristic clumsiness with words, replies with a slow nod. She’s giving herself time to think before answering, wants to say the right thing, the thing she means.

Conveniently for Jamie’s need to pause, they’ve also just reached the park, and face a decision as to which fork of path to take. She touches Dani lightly on her jacket sleeve, gestures with a glance at a bench tucked into the treeline overlooking the playground, deserted today. Dani indicates agreement with a short duck of her head, and it’s only after they’ve seamlessly shifted their path in the agreed-upon direction that it sinks in that the entire conversation was completed nonverbally. Jamie doesn’t think there’s – no, she knows there isn’t – anyone else on the planet she can, or ever could, communicate with this way. The realization makes her feel, on the one hand, a little thrill, a sense-memory of the specialness she used to feel around Dani all the time. On the other hand, she thinks, Shit, this thing between us runs deep. Always has. It’s…good, but it’s not simple. Never will be.

By the time they’ve made their way to the blue-painted bench, the cold metal searing through the seat of Jamie’s jeans, this tangle of thoughts has coalesced into what feels like the truest, most important thing to let Dani know next: “I felt that, too.”

Dani’s face breaks for just a moment into a hopeful – or maybe relieved – openness, before she dives back in – good, but not simple, Jamie thinks – “We weren’t normal friends, were we?”

“No, we were not.” She lets her head fall forward as she shakes it, feels her curls fall against her cheeks and curtain her face.

“Yeah, I didn’t really figure that out until I’d already left,” Dani says, reflective. “I mean, I knew you weren’t like anyone else I’d ever met-” she pauses, flashes a smile that says obviously and sends a jolt into Jamie’s stomach – “but I didn’t get just how different until I got to college, made some friends there. Realized you weren’t just special for Davenport, you were special for…the world.”

Jamie’s stomach wrenches. She’s thinking of the first weeks after Dani moved out, when first thing after waking up, she wouldn’t remember their falling out, wouldn’t remember Dani leaving town, would catch herself picturing parts of the day ahead with Dani’s gold-tinged energy around the edges. Then, it would all come back, and she’d think about texting, but remember that she sent the first text last time, a week ago, remember exactly how many hours Dani had waited to reply, remember how last time they talked on the phone they kept being interrupted by Dani’s roommate and Eddie shouting in the background.  

“So, why didn’t you say something to me? Why didn’t you…I don’t know, Dani, anything?” She hates that this old wound still hurts so much, but can’t stop her eyes from filling and her voice from straining as she finally asks what she’s needed to know for too long.

Dani chews her bottom lip. “Because by then I was starting to put it all together. That you weren’t like everyone else, and I loved you for it, but that we weren’t like other friends because I wasn’t like everyone else either. And that…scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t deal with it. Or I wouldn’t. I didn’t.” She looks sick, shoulders slumping and lips trembling.

“Dani,” she nearly whispers. All she can get out is Dani’s name, because as much as this revelation is hurting Jamie, she can see Dani’s suffered for a long time because of it. She slides a hand onto Dani’s forearm, squeezes through the layers. “Dani, I had no idea. I…you know, I guess I thought I’d gotten so lucky. I moved here, out of the fucking worst life, and right away met this amazing friend who let me be myself, who loved me and brought me into her world. And so I tried really hard not to think about you as anything more than that, even when I knew we were doing things that most friends don’t – I knew we were, but I tried not to look too hard at that – because I didn’t want to disrespect you, didn’t want to mess it all up by being a hormonal teenager, making assumptions. And you had Eddie, and it just seemed like you were happy with the way things were.”

Dani laughs, but it’s an empty, rueful thing. “Yeah, I put a lot into making it seem like I was happy with the way things were. You know what’s really fucked up, is that I think if I hadn’t had you, I’d have broken up with him, seen that he wasn’t right for me. But I got so much of what was missing with him from you, and I let myself believe that I could make a life that way. One person can’t be everything to someone else, I thought. May as well take what I can have, learn to make it work.” Jamie’s shaking her head, her heart is breaking, for her younger self, for Dani, for everything they had and lost and everything they were robbed of.

Dani continues: “And you, you were so brave. You came out and were honest and let everyone see you and I just stood back and watched and wondered how the hell you could do it.” She’s fully snarling at herself now, tearful eyes locked on the powerlines arcing over the park against the winter-blank sky.

“I hate myself for not being braver.” Dani adds bluntly. “I could’ve made things go so differently. So, so differently.”

Jamie doesn’t think she’s ever heard someone sound so bitter, and to hell with not sugarcoating, she wants to soothe her, to offer even a shred of comfort to this person who’s never been anything but brutal in holding herself to the highest standards.

“Dani, you don’t know that. Really, who knows what would’ve-”

Dani cuts her off. “Jamie, listen to yourself. Listen to what you’ve been saying, what I’ve been saying, and just tell me what you would have done if I’d rolled over one night and kissed you.”

Jamie’s stomach drops to her feet, and her mouth goes dry.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Dani says, reading her reaction. “I could have made one little move and changed everything, but I was stupid, and selfish, and scared, and I did what I always do: I chose the safe thing. The easy thing.”

“Doesn’t sound like it’s been easy for you.” Jamie feels like she’s treading around a frightened animal. The anger and remorse coming off Dani right now is palpable, and it makes a bad cocktail with the sad regret in the pit of Jamie’s own stomach. She continues, slowly, “Listen, Dani, I’m not innocent here either. What we had worked for me, too. You’ll remember I wasn’t exactly jumping to date anyone else.” Jamie’s putting this together for the first time as she’s saying it, and hopes her meaning is coming across. “And I should have…made more space for you to figure yourself out. But I took you at face value, just like everybody else. I just…assumed that who you were when we met was who you were always going to be, even though I was expanding all the time. I’m so sorry I didn’t give you room to do the same.”

When she’s finally finished speaking, she searches out Dani’s eyes again, finds them looking back turned soft and subdued.

“Jamie, you were a kid,” Dani says, shaking her head gently as if chasing away any possibility of Jamie being at fault.

Jamie feels her face fall into a can you hear yourself expression of incredulity – “You were too, Dani.” Dani looks away again, still not willing to absolve herself. Jamie recognizes the struggle written on her face, on her body held rigid. Dani’s struggling with a lesson Jamie’s had to learn through many hard years of therapy and thought and just time: “Doesn’t do any good for adult you to judge kid you too harshly.”

They sit silent then, the newly-revealed and the oft-mulled-over settling around them together like fresh snow. The afternoon light is running low, the temperature dropping, and it feels natural and right when Dani leans into Jamie’s side, the warm weight of her taking the edge off the chill creeping in.

“Well, shit.” Dani speaks steadily and straight ahead into the quiet, like she’s resolved something. “Can’t go back and change anything now.”

“You’re right about that much, babe.” The nickname finally slips out – Jamie had thought it earlier in this conversation, had even thought it in Dani’s direction a couple of times the night before when their rapport had been easiest, lightest, but tamped it down.

Dani smiles down into her lap, cheeks turning rosier. She looks up to meet Jamie’s eyes, confesses: “I always loved when you called me that.”

Jamie’s grin is lopsided and smug. “Yeah, I kinda knew that. You’d always give me that big winning Dani-fucking-Clayton smile when I said it. Y’know who didn’t love it? Eddie. You’d be smiling away at me, and he’d be glaring from the other direction.” She chuckles softly, reflecting that she’d probably enjoyed ruffling Eddie’s feathers a bit too much.

Another full minute of quiet passes, each breathing a bit easier with things laid out in a row for the first time.

“We could…call it even,” Dani knocks her thigh against Jamie’s, turns, gives her that small, hopeful smile, like she knows it’s too much to hope for, is almost too much to suggest.

But Jamie doesn’t need to be convinced; she’s in before Dani turns her head: “Good enough for me.”

They smile at each other for a moment, and Jamie feels both lighter and fuller than she had ten minutes prior: her shoulders relax from a tension carried so long she’d forgotten it was there, but something in her chest feels expansive. She feels taller, stronger, looking for the first time in years into Dani’s eyes – always just one click above her own eye level, but near enough for a direct gaze – without feeling the need to pull away.

“What now?” Dani says, and she finally sounds like herself again: the words are part genuine question, asked of an equal; part challenge, levelled at a best friend.

“What do you want?”

“Honestly, Jamie Taylor, I’d like to kiss you,” Dani says the words – says what she wants, for maybe the first time, Jamie realizes – with an irresistibly cheeky leap before you look expression.

Jamie can only return the same – let’s do this, finally, let’s do it, I’m in – and an eager nod. She lets Dani move first, lets her slide her pocket-warmed hands onto Jamie’s cold cheeks, stills as she brushes a thumb against Jamie’s temple before pulling their faces together. Only then does Jamie move to cup one hand across the back of Dani’s neck, holding her close.

This kiss is as different from the first as a park bench is from a bar bathroom. Jamie starts slowly, taking her time getting to know what it’s like to kiss Dani properly. She traces her lower lip with the tip of her tongue. She bumps their noses together, takes a beat to look into Dani’s eyes before replacing her lips, pushing a little harder now. By the time she’s cresting into Dani’s mouth, Dani’s giving as much back, and the boldness with which Dani uses her tongue puts sparks behind Jamie’s closed eyes.

And the small sounds Dani’s making unselfconsciously – a light whine as Jamie slides her fingers into her hair, a series of small, frenzied pants as Jamie drifts her lower lip over Dani’s earlobe. Every noise goes straight to Jamie’s core, stoking a burgeoning heat.

When Dani tugs down the zipper of Jamie’s coat and slides her hands around either side of Jamie’s body, even though she’s still touching her through two layers of fabric, Jamie flushes like she’s naked. This is very nearly too much for public, she thinks, but it’s also so fucking good, and she drops her hands to Dani’s thighs, runs them up and around her hips then drags them down, fingernails scratching against the denim. The mewl this elicits from Dani is absolutely too much for public. As will be the next five things Jamie has planned.

So it’s with the greatest of difficulty that Jamie, once again, pulls back gently – places hands on Dani’s forearms, pulls them out of her own coat – and says, “Not here.”

Jamie would laugh at the look on Dani’s face – affronted, like she’d expected to get fucked here and now and can’t believe Jamie won’t give that to her – if it didn’t also look so devastated.

“Want to come to mine?” she suggests, instead.

“Is it close?” Dani asks, eyebrows quirking up hopefully.

Jamie can’t help it, she guffaws. “What’s the alternative, Clayton? Sneak me into your childhood bedroom, and Karen down the hall?” It’s not lost on her that they’re talking about private spaces, bedrooms, here, no question where this is headed, and it makes her a little dizzy, makes her say bolder things than she generally expects of herself these days.

“Well,” Dani says, mischievous, “while there would be a certain poetic justice in that, you’re right. I don’t know what I was suggesting, guess I’m just…”

“Eager?” Jamie teases.

“Ready.” Dani finishes, and her eyes go dark, lips parting.

“Shit, okay. Okay. Damn.” Jamie gathers herself up, rises, offers Dani a hand up but she’s already on her feet, too. Ready. Right.

They walk back to the shopping street at a clip, arms pressing into one another side-by-side, and the glances Jamie steals over at Dani find her grinning down into her jacket collar, working her lips with her teeth in a way that makes Jamie want to push her against a storefront and get back to it. Instead, she fists her hands inside her own pockets, digs fingernails into palms, bets Dani’s doing the same.

When they reach Jamie’s truck, she pauses – “This is me. Follow me, or…?” she gestures to the passenger side door with a flick of her head.

Dani shakes her head. “I’ll drive. Can’t get a parking ticket in my mom’s car, I’ll never hear the end of it. I’m at the end of the block.”

Jamie nods, and they manage to part ways without making a scene – a quick squeeze of Dani’s hand, a glance that smolders, is all.  

-

Driving her truck toward her house, careful to give ample time with turn signals and not make any close lights to that Dani can follow her easily, Jamie’s body is humming and her mind is racing. As she makes a deliberate left off the main street, she thinks, This will be either the absolute worst or absolute best decision I’ve ever made. As she’s merging onto the business route that’s the fastest way home, checking for the sweep of Dani’s headlights in the rearview, she muses that their decision to bring both cars, driving separately rather than ditching one for the chance to grope across the center console, is such a little thing, but shows their age, their maturity. Ten years ago, even five, she’d have said fuckit to the threat of a parking ticket, to a tow, to anything short of a goddamn arrest if she knew the alternative was being separated from the person she was taking home – especially if that person had been Dani. As she’s making a slow right onto her street, she’s not thinking so much as it’s hitting her what they’re about to do, and she feels her heartrate rise. And by the time she’s pulling into the driveway, she’s pulsing her thighs together at the ache there, eager to get in the door.

She fumbles the key in the lock, moves to hide the clumsiness with her body before she realizes that she doesn’t need to impress Dani with her coolness – Dani’s opinion of her is already formed. The thought settles her nerves a bit, as does Dani’s hand sure on the small of her back, and she thinks that as odd as this is, it’s already easier and more comfortable than any first date in recent memory (not that there have been many).

As she at last defeats the lock, pushes the door open and flicks on the lights, she announces, “Ah, here we are. Didn’t clean – sorry ‘bout that.”

“If you had, would’ve been awfully presumptuous,” Dani teases, “and also then I’d have to figure out what alien had possessed you and where the real Jamie was.” Jamie stops then, and it washes over her: Dani, whose ghost she’s loved quietly for a decade, is in her house, in full color, solid and warm and looking at her like she knows her. Jamie takes it all back. This is worse, far worse, than any first date, hookup, romantic encounter. Because this isn’t a first date; it’s more like the strangest 500th date in history, and maybe not such a good idea for it.

“Hey, where’d you go?” Dani steps in close, takes Jamie’s hands, concerned. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. This is your space, I don’t want to disrupt your life.”

Jamie smiles back, grateful, and also ever in awe at how this woman can read her. Still. “No, it’s not that, it’s just…all day I’ve been thinking about how what we had…what we’ve got, I guess, was good – is good” – she’s struggling mightily with which tense to use – were they or are they? – “is so good, but it’s not simple.”

“Good, but not simple,” Dani repeats, turning the words over experimentally. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s exactly right.”

“Yeah, and I just…don’t know what that means right now, for this moment. Twenty-four hours ago I hadn’t seen you in months, hadn’t talked properly in years, and now…this feels good, feels right, but my mind won’t stop going over and over the what next, what ifs. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to make this overly complicated.”

“No, no, you’re right,” Dani affirms, “It’s not simple. Unless we decide it is. For now at least? I guess what I mean is, I would be okay taking it one day at a time. I’m here until Sunday. After that I fly back to LA. I have no idea what that’s going to look like or feel like, but in the meantime, I want to be here, with you.” It’s a jumble, and if their conversation had started here, Jamie would never go for it; she guards her life too meticulously to let fly-by-night passions insert themselves, make trouble. But right now, her guard is down. The whirlwind of last night, the hangover from the emotional detox that was their afternoon, the sheer effect of being so close to Dani for so long, of knowing exactly which parts of Dani she’s touched so far and which she hasn’t yet, has her making rash decisions. Or, getting very close to making them.

“One day at a time,” she repeats.

“I don’t think it can hurt,” says Dani carefully. “Just for the weekend – one day at a time is what we’ve got.”

Jamie takes a deep breath. “Okay,” she says. “I can live with that.” Because, she thinks, what else is there, really? She gets Dani’s drift - even if they never speak again after tonight, they’re not endangering a solid friendship in the same way they would have been before. And this is something she’s wanted for so long, that she owes it to herself to take it. And Dani’s leaving after the holiday. Doesn’t have to mean anything more than making up for lost chances of their youth. It’s a gift, she decides. I’ll accept it.

Dani waits quietly until she sees that Jamie is settled in her decision, then pulls her by one hand to the couch. “We don’t have to rush,” she says, and Jamie is inwardly amused that inexperienced Dani is coaxing her into this like it’s her first time. But Dani is showing her so much care, so much consideration, that she doesn’t even comment on it. Once they’re seated, Dani says, nearly to herself, “We can pick up right where we left off. You were here,” and she places Jamie’s hands on her own thighs, “and I,” she unzips Jamie’s jacket again, threads her hands back inside to rest against Jamie’s sweater, “was here.”

And then she’s leaning in again, and Jamie feels herself at last decide, positively, that it’s worth it to jump.

-

She dives back into Dani’s kisses, deeper and faster than they were before, but still exploratory, revelatory. She drags her nails down the tops of Dani’s thighs, once again eliciting a sound that makes her own core throb. She shucks her coat off backwards, helps Dani do the same, repeats until they’re down to tank top and t-shirt and she’s able to palm over Dani’s breast and feel her nipple harden in response.

Dani pushes her down – Onto my own damn couch, Jamie thinks – Is she going to fucking top me? Who the hell knew? – and does indeed climb onto of Jamie, straddling her lap and grinning like she’s won the lottery. Dani’s having fun, she’s letting go, she’s taking it one day – one minute – at a time. Jamie follows her example, does the very next thing that pops into her mind: she reaches her hands around Dani’s back and holds Dani in place as she starts to roll her own hips upward. Dani’s head falls back even as she’s reciprocating, grinding down and into Jamie, breathing heavily.

Their movements start slow but their tandem efforts and their still-on jeans work together to build friction fast. Jamie is humming into every thrust, and Dani is biting her lip and riding Jamie’s lap with so much intensity that she’s already sweating in a way that Jamie finds irresistible. She risks breaking their rhythm to sit up and lick Dani’s neck, tracing a line from her throat up to her jaw before landing a sloppy kiss back on her mouth.

Dani’s eyes are heavy-lidded and dark, her chest heaving as she fingers the hem of Jamie’s shirt. Jamie nods, lifts her arms, lets Dani pull it off, toss it across the room. She runs her hands up the front of Dani’s tight tank top and clean under Dani’s bra, a moan escaping when she crests the tops of Dani’s breasts before sliding both garments up and off. Dani bends down to pepper kisses along Jamie’s shoulders, sliding bra straps down to make way for more contact. She’s sucking and biting a sensitive spot near Jamie’s collarbone as she works at the clasp of Jamie’s bra, takes a few tries but ultimately succeeds in removing it.

“Well done,” Jamie says into the shell of Dani’s ear. “Sure that’s your first time?”

“Mmmmhmm,” Dani hums into her skin, and Jamie all of a sudden can’t take it slow anymore, she needs access to more of Dani, now.

“Can I?” she asks, shifting Dani’s body backward as if to switch their positions. Dani nods, panting, eager to see what Jamie’s going to do.

What Jamie’s going to do is let Dani fall back off her lap and onto the couch cushions. Jamie’s going to shift her own body down so that she’s on her knees in between Dani’s legs. She’s going to slide down, dropping kisses and touches at key points – a breast, a hipbone – until she’s pressing kisses into the creases of Dani’s hips through her jeans, then the insides of her thighs, then the most sensitive part of Dani, running her tongue flat and hot against the seam.

Dani is writhing underneath this attention, whimpering softly and clenching and unclenching her hands by her sides. Finally she can’t wait any longer, finds Jamie’s hands with her own and places them roughly at the zipper.

“Off, please, take them off,” she begs, lifting her hips helpfully. Jamie grins and complies, then goes to settle back in. “No, no, these too,” Dani whines, pushing her soaked-through underwear down as well.

“Okay,” Jamie laughs, “not going to take that much teasing. Got it.”

“Good,” Dani says with a little huff, and god but her impatience is driving Jamie higher every second, bringing her right up to the edge of delicious frustration she knows Dani’s riding. She ghosts her breath across Dani’s newly exposed, extremely wet and swollen skin, drinking in the way it makes Dani’s stomach ripple, makes Dani’s breath hitch, makes Dani’s hand fly to cup the back of Jamie’s head. One last self-satisfied grin and Jamie begins in earnest. She lifts Dani’s thighs up and over her shoulders, dips her head and delivers one long, slow, hard lick all the way up Dani’s center, stopping just short of where Dani’s clit is buried in blonde curls.

She repeats the path, moving almost imperceptibly faster, but faster nonetheless. She does this over, and over, until once again Dani is panting, whining, bucking her hips to ask for more. Then, without warning, she presses her tongue deep into Dani, as far as she can, and spends a long minute kissing, sucking, drinking Dani’s arousal, and nothing has ever compared. When she breaks to breathe, she glances up at Dani, checking in, and the expression on Dani’s face would be enough to make Jamie drip, if she weren’t already. Dani is looking at her like Jamie’s discovered something, holds the patent, and it’s changing Dani’s life in this very moment.

Before she can return to what she’s doing, Dani says, “Come here,” and pulls her back up her body, cradles Jamie’s face in her hands.

And so, Jamie gets the supreme pleasure of being there, live and in person, the first time Dani Clayton tastes herself on another woman’s lips. Just as Dani’s mouth finds hers, Jamie slides one finger in where her tongue had been, and the combination of touch-taste-scent makes Dani moan into her kiss, makes Jamie growl low in her throat and rock against Dani’s hip. When Dani spreads her legs further apart, Jamie adds a second finger, curling into slick muscle.

Jamie notices then that Dani’s sounds have become strangled, clipped, and she realizes that Dani is working hard not to be too loud. Without breaking her rhythm, Jamie covers Dani’s ear with her mouth, says softly, “You don’t have to be quiet, babe. Single-family home and all that.”

Dani’s eyes fly open, turn to find Jamie’s. “Oh shit, you’re right!” she exclaims, like Jamie’s delivering fully brand-new information. She tosses her head back in loud laughter. “LA’s an apartment – this is a house, Jamie, you have a house!”

“I do, that.” Jamie chuckles, taking pleasure in seeing Dani this free (also taking pleasure in the way Dani is tightening around her fingers even as they talk).

“We’re having sex at your house.” Dani’s volume is increasing. “We’re having sex. I’m having sex with Jamie. Fuck! Yes Jamie!”

Dani’s mirth is contagious, and Jamie marvels for a second that she can be so turned on and so goddamned happy at once – it’s been a long time since those things intersected for her. In the meantime, she’s thumbing Dani’s clit with each push, and Dani’s cries are becoming rhythmic, and Jamie can see and feel her getting closer, is starting to chase that edge with her.

“Fuck, Jamie, Jamie, fuck. Fuck! Yes, fuck!” Dani, it turns out, is not only loud, her mouth is kind of filthy.

“You’re gonna make me come, Jamie, I’m gonna fucking come,” she drawls, panting between the words, legs tensing, starting to shake.

Jamie, struggling to concentrate amid her own growing desperation, curls her fingers harder, and breathes low, “Fuck, yes, Dani, come for me, let me make you come.”

And Dani does. With a scream that starts in her abdomen and rips through her throat (and damn if the neighbors might’ve actually heard that after all, Jamie thinks), Dani shatters. Jamie loses count of the pulses around her fingers, only knows there are so many, and so hard it hurts a little, but she’ll die before she lets up the pressure.

When Dani’s body finally stills and Jamie slowly withdraws her hand, she’s surprised when Dani reaches to lace her trembling fingers together with Jamie’s wet ones, doesn’t shy away or look for something to wipe them clean on. It’s not clear if she’s marveling at Jamie’s hand and what it’s just done to her, or what she’s left on it, and it doesn’t matter, because now she’s moving their clasped hands lower again, using her free one to worry the button and zipper of Jamie’s jeans open, push their hands in together.

“Show me what you like?” she asks. Jamie groans in anticipation, kicks her pants down, guides Dani’s hand into her own ruined underwear. She’s so close already, she knows she’ll get there from a few strokes across her swollen, throbbing clit, it’s what she’s planning, but Dani’s hand has strayed lower, and Dani’s drawing in a ragged, awed breath.

“Jamie, is this from…”

“Mmm, you,” Jamie’s barely verbal because Dani Clayton is now tracing her lips with one long, slender finger, looking at her with wonder as she trails through what Jamie knows is a pool of thick, wet heat. She hears herself make a garbled sound, then, hell, she said show me what you want, covers Dani’s hand with her own once more and pushes her inside, finds herself so open that her own index finger slips in atop Dani’s. “Here, please.”

Her eyes roll back as Dani inadvertently teases inside her with one too-tentative finger while she circles her own clit, rough and needy. It takes about sixty seconds, as she thought it would, and then she’s arching back into the cushions of the couch, eyes screwed shut as she crashes from the longest buildup she can imagine – ten years and the longest day of her life.

-

Five minutes later, Dani rolls over in Jamie’s arms where she’s been curled, coming down, looks up at her with the most earnest of ocean-blue eyes, and says the Dani-est thing she has so far: “Hey, I’m starving. Wanna get Chinese?”

Chapter Text

An hour later, they’re finishing up sweet-savory noodles and stir fry from Minh’s, hands-down the best Chinese place in Davenport, then as now. Takeout was an obvious choice, neither one caring to get fully dressed again or expose themselves to the inevitable endless train of how-are-yas and Merry-Christmas-to-your-moms that await any small-town returnee in a public place at the holidays.  Plus, Jamie thinks, Dani’s got a serious case of sex hair and doesn’t seem to be able to stop undressing Jamie with her eyes, so best keep this one in tonight. Best for her, too, to get to once again swap paper cartons of food back and forth with Dani from their spots at opposite ends of a couch, feet and legs tangling together in the middle.

When Dani rises to fetch another fortune cookie, she doesn’t come back right away, but instead circles the living room, chewing thoughtfully while finally taking the time to observe her surroundings. Jamie wonders what she thinks of what she sees—what’s surprising, what’s not. The clutter of plants and messily stacked books is a constant, has been since before she met Dani. So is the bin of records in the corner, the same player she got for her first birthday with her adoptive family—the moment she knew they truly saw her, loved her, wanted to keep her and give her things that weren’t useful, but that she would delight in. New to Dani will be the shadowboxes of feathers, the species labelled in Jamie’s meticulous small hand; the row of glass vials of sand and soil, geological souvenirs of the places she’s travelled.   

It occurs to Jamie that this is a bit unfair, that in all likelihood she’ll never get to turn slowly around Dani’s apartment, take a leisurely inventory of all the sames and differents in her friend’s life. She’s about to say as much, when she realizes that Dani has stopped moving, picked up a picture frame from off the mantle, is staring at it with a frown.

“Who’s this?” Dani’s pointing an accusatory finger into the dusty glass, and Jamie doesn’t need to see which frame she’s got to know that she’s found one of the several in which Jamie is photographed alongside a taller woman, sandy blonde hair cropped short and kept messy, trendy plastic-rimmed glasses, gap-toothed smile, constellation of freckles over the bridge of her nose.

“Ah, that would be Syd. Sydney. My ex.” She lets this information land, waits to see how much more information Dani might want, or not. Her choice.

“You have an ex,” Dani says flatly. “How long?”

“How long were we together, or how long broken up?” Jamie asks.

“Both, I guess. If that’s okay to ask.” Dani’s still squinting down at the photo.

“Together three years, apart now nearly one. Split last February.” Her tone in delivering this news is even, matter-of-fact. The breakup had been sad, but not rough, not quite mutual but not at all a surprise to either party.

“Three years…” Dani repeats, and Jamie can see the wheels turning. “Did she live here? With you?” 

Jamie swallows, nods. “She did. S’my place, though. Bought it right after I met her–” Dani’s eyes flash up – “but not because of her,” Jamie explains quickly. “Just worked out that way.” She’s jealous, Jamie thinks. And she knows she’s not allowed to be. In spite of herself, she grins, tries to swallow it, mostly fails. Welcome to my goddamn world, Clayton

“You still have the photos up.”

The question Dani’s trying to ask is why? so that’s what Jamie answers as she rises, walks over to Dani and rests one hand on the mantle that holds the row of photos: “Those three years, I wasn’t just being with Syd. I was living my life. I went to New York City for the first time—” she points to a snapshot of her with her arms around Syd on the deck of a ferry, Statue of Liberty dimly visible in the background, “Learned how to camp,” she indicates a faux-vintage Polaroid of the two of them in canvas camp chairs next to a fire, cans of beer raised in a cheers toward the photographer.

“They were full years. Good ones. Not just gonna throw the memories away because my relationship went wrong. If I did that, wouldn’t have these up, either, would I?” she steps to the built-ins that line the side wall, knows just where to reach to procure two small items that she hands to Dani. One is another frame, this one housing a photo of the two of them on a ski lift, Dani looking thrilled beneath her goggles, Jamie looking terrified: her first time on skis, when she’d tagged along on Dani’s annual winter vacation.

The second item is more precious by far. It’s a strip of photo booth shots of the two of them, classic in their cliché: the top shot is silly, tongues out and eyes crossed; in the next they’re making the biggest cheesiest smiles their faces can physically manage; in the third they’d turned and faced each other, noses tip to tip. In the final photo at the very bottom, they’re hugging and grinning, eyes closed like they’ve forgotten they’re being photographed, just hanging onto each other for the sheer joy of it. After Dani looks for a moment, Jamie turns it over in her hands. There’s a note there in purple glitter gel pen: Love you forever dorkface, xx, D.

Dani looks up from the strip with tender eyes and a soft smile, which Jamie returns in kind as she says, “Wouldn’t throw all that away for anything, would I?” She means the photos, she means the memories, she means Dani. I may not have been waiting for you all this time, she thinks to herself, but I haven’t forgotten anything.

Then, almost immediately, the counter: No, no. This isn’t what we’re doing here. Because to Jamie, no expectations – just the weekend, one day at a time – necessitates leaving their history aside too. Dani had said as much too: call it even, can’t go back now. Jamie jerks her head one hard shake to clear the inner argument, focuses back on the true nature of their agreement: “So, anyway…do you want to stay over here tonight?”

Dani’s reaction is immediate, unequivocally pleased, just what she wanted. Broad grin, enthusiastic nod. She replaces the photos on their shelves, says, “Let me just…” and drops to her knees next to her bag where she’s tossed it on the floor, fishes her phone out to text her mother.

“Karen gonna be OK with that? I’m sure she wants you home,” Jamie ventures.

Dani rolls her eyes. “You know, I really don’t care. The older I’ve gotten the more I realize I can’t keep trying to meet her needs while she ignores mine.” She’s smiling more than she should be while saying something that dark, Jamie thinks, but the words are wise.

“Done.” Dani reports, slips the phone into the bag. Her head bops back up to meet Jamie’s eyes with a just-been-granted-sleepover-permission look of anticipation. It’s too much for Jamie, whose stomach is now full of her favorite food, whose head is once again back on straight about what she can expect from this and what she can’t, and whose hands are ready to have Dani’s skin under them again, ASAP. She reaches for Dani, pulls her up to standing – Dani gives a playful hop as she leaves the floor – and leads her at last to her bedroom.

-

They spend the next hour – or maybe two, Jamie’s lost track – lying on Jamie’s bed in the low light of a single bedside lamp in various stages of undress, working toward, dancing around, but not quite reaching what Jamie was sure – was determined – would be her only goal.

But you know, if Jamie takes her time kissing, caressing, tracing the lines of Dani’s body like she has weeks to get to know it, not days; if Dani keeps rolling back to ask Jamie for more details about Syd – how they got their start, how and why it ended, do you ever see her; if Jamie answers these questions truthfully and thoughtfully, and in return asks Dani things about how her life with Eddie had looked, about how her life in general looks now – that’s all to be expected; they’re people to each other after all, not a random app hookup.

Until at last, they’ve reached a point where it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up their conversation – Dani’s breaths have grown ragged, and the tips of her ears are flushed a deep pink. Jamie’s finding it harder and harder to concentrate when she’s asked a question, her brain sliding instead toward strategies to get her hands across Dani’s skin – now that it’s almost all exposed – in new and different ways.  

Jamie’s struggling now to describe the various technologies she uses in her nursery to convince tropical plants to grow in Iowa – Dani had asked, but it had been some minutes ago, and Jamie keeps trailing off mid-sentence as Dani experiments with applying her teeth in various degrees of pressure across Jamie’s shoulders and chest. Dani interrupts, saves her – “Maybe you can tell me about the rest of that tomorrow, huh?” and more importantly, she hooks three fingers into the front of Jamie’s underwear, pulls her in closer.

Jamie’s breath leaves her in one huff.

When Dani flattens her palm against Jamie’s stomach, starts inching down slowly, Jamie feels her throat tighten. In the same moment, she slides her own hand to Dani’s hipbone, rocks Dani’s body ever so gently.

When Dani’s fingertips slip under the band of Jamie’s underwear and scratch lightly, Jamie hears herself release a small, strangled whine. In the same moment, she thumbs the elastic where it hugs Dani’s hip.

When Dani’s hot palm is cupping her, movements still exploratory but less tentative than earlier, Jamie can’t help but shift her top leg, bend it at the knee, to grant her access. In the same moment, she flicks her own fingers under and into damp cotton, knuckles grazing swollen skin.

Jamie is whining now, the effect of dual torture: that Dani’s hand is continuing to roam, slides across and around Jamie’s core, a little clumsy in its path but somehow even more stimulating for the unpredictability; while at the same time, Jamie is working hard not to take over again, not to push two fingers where she knows they’ll slide into slick heat with no effort whatsoever, fuck Dani down into her mattress until she’s screaming again.

And there’s another thing, too, one Jamie is pushing aside even more fervently than she’s ignoring the desperation building between her thighs. She won’t, will not, name the thing itself, but it’s evident in how, in contrast to earlier on the couch, Dani’s watching Jamie’s face as she’s touching her, catching Jamie’s clues as to what spots are particularly sensitive; it’s in how Jamie knows now that letting Dani set the pace, agonizingly slow as it is, is the right thing to do after hearing that Dani felt so robbed of agency in her previous relationship.

So, even as she’s working not to see the reasons why, Jamie is determined to hold back, to give Dani the chance to lead Jamie where she wants her to go. Right now, that means that Dani is dipping her index finger into Jamie, can’t be more than one knuckle deep, and it should feel like nothing but it’s driving Jamie mad with anticipation of more. She mirrors the movement on Dani, presses ever so slightly right where Dani is wettest, feels her fingertip coat immediately in thick arousal, has to actively work not to follow all the way in. She waits until Dani adds a degree more pressure, until she feels Dani sink one entire finger into her, to do the same back.

Dani’s eyes fly up at the realization that Jamie is touching Dani exactly how, and when, Dani is touching her. Jamie smiles, drops a quick kiss onto Dani’s stunned parted lips, slightly playful. Your move, you’re in charge.

Dani takes the proffered power and runs with it, seems to be treating it as something between a challenge – show me what you’ve got – and a one-time-only special offer – make the most of this. Eyes locked on Jamie’s, she delivers a few more tantalizing one-fingered strokes, keeping them slow but pushing deeper each time until Jamie feels the pressure of Dani’s top knuckles kneading into her. She can tell from Dani’s growl that she’s craving more, but restraining herself, holding Jamie to her promise to give only what she gets.

What she gets next is a deliberate curl in that one finger, pressing up and into more sensitive flesh before pulling out again. Jamie shudders – this is really and truly the slowest sex she’s ever had – and does her best to copy the motion. When Dani’s eyes flutter back for a moment, she knows she’s nailed it.

Finally it seems that Dani’s suffering as much as she is, because she picks up her tempo a bit, sets a pattern – push, curl, drag – that gives just enough friction to offer some relief. Jamie thanks her by way of a messy open-mouthed kiss, tongue licking into Dani’s mouth in time with their shared motions.     

Then and only then does Dani see fit to add a second finger, and Jamie curses as she does the same, curses again at the keening sound Dani starts to make every time Jamie thrusts, curls, drags. When Dani throws her leg up and over Jamie’s thigh, pulling them closer together, pulling Jamie harder and deeper into herself and filling Jamie harder and deeper in return, Jamie nearly passes out. She presses her forehead into Dani’s, marvels at the way their entire bodies are matching each other now: they’re breathing together, and each joint exhale now comes with sound effects, Dani’s keen growing steadily into a series of moans, Jamie adding a heavy, needy huh, huh, huh sound that she’s not sure she’s ever heard herself make.

From all of this, Jamie should know that when Dani starts to approach the edge, starts to tighten and tremble around Jamie’s fingers, that she’ll do the same. But it’s still the most delicious surprise when it happens, when the built-up pressure and want start pushing her body rigid, preparing to fall, eager for the release.

“Oh, fuck, fuck, god,” Dani’s evolved to the filthy-talk phase, much to Jamie’s pleasure, and she knows that her own her name will be added to the string of exclamations in three, two,

Jamie, fuck,” there it is. And Jamie won’t look too hard at how knowing to expect this doesn’t diminish its effect but amplifies it ten times; no; she’ll look just to the side of that: at how the sound of her name, coming raw and rough out of Dani’s elegant mouth makes Jamie hold her own breath for a beat with each repetition so that her next exhale brings a harder, sharper throb. 

When Dani sobs, “please, Jamie, fuck, please,” Jamie knows it’s time for her to make her one self-directed move, to give Dani the final push she needs to tumble. With a deep moan of her own, knowing what she’s about to cause, Jamie thumbs once, twice, over Dani’s clit and holds there as Dani comes apart.

Dani’s convulsions, echoed in her hand still buried deep in Jamie, are very nearly enough to get Jamie to the same edge all on their own; all she needs is the same tiny push, which she gives herself, and then she, too is shuddering, arching, letting Dani’s aftershock cries carry her through.

Minutes later, as they lay spent and limp in a sweaty, sticky pile, Jamie finally lets herself have the complete thought: they’re playing a very dangerous game. It’s one thing to have sex, to tick a box, scratch an itch that’s been nagging for a long time. It’s another thing entirely to let things like intimacy, tenderness, care into the mix.

In short, the particular what-might-have-been sandbox they’re playing in is not without risk. In fact, she muses, her post-orgasm brain going fuzzy even as she’s thinking about this, sand is sort of notorious for getting into all the tiny cracks and crevices of your life, for showing up later where and when you don’t want it any longer. Sand is fun to play in, feels safe, holds heat, but it’s hard to brush off when you’re done.

The fact that Dani, her breathing having recovered, is now stroking Jamie’s hair back from her forehead, gazing down unselfconsciously into Jamie’s eyes, is not helpful. Even less helpful is how, when they’re settling in to sleep, Dani flips Jamie over with a quick, playful shove and assumes her old sleeping position curled around Jamie from behind.

Only now, they’re skin to skin, Dani placing sleepy, breathy kisses down Jamie’s spine. Only now, Jamie knows what Dani’s thinking about back there in the dark. Only now, Jamie is praying that Dani isn’t feeling the way she does – that Dani is swimming in bliss unmarred by complicated thoughts.

-

The night of sleep does Jamie’s troubled mind good. She wakes up secure in the knowledge that Dani is an adult; she is an adult; they can choose to play in a…dangerous sandbox?...if they want to. Even the metaphor seems shaky now that there’s light streaming through Jamie’s curtains, now that Dani – getting dressed off the floor of Jamie’s room – is smiling in an easy, chipper way that says she’s having no trouble with this arrangement.   

What Dani is having trouble with is leaving Jamie’s house and returning to her regularly-scheduled holiday plans. She’s said goodbye a handful of times already, accepted a loaner travel mug of tea with an eyeroll and an “Ok, but only so I survive until the nearest Starbucks,” and is now hovering by the door, fidgeting with her headband.

“I mean, it’s just…she doesn’t seem to care to ask me anything about myself when I’m around, you know?” Her eyebrows are furrowed, eyes already stormy in anticipation of later conflict.

“I know. I mean, that’s always kind of been the case, yeah?” Jamie can remember many dinners with Dani and her mother in which she desperately wanted, but could never quite crack how, to rescue her friend from the onslaught of not-questions loaded with insinuation and expectation. “But it’s only going to get worse the longer you’re out. May as well put in some face time today,” so I can see you tomorrow with less guilt, she thinks, but clips the words.

“Besides,” Jamie thinks it will be easier for Dani to leave if Jamie has somewhere to be, too, “I may need to get up to the nursery for a few hours.”

“Argh. You’re right.” Dani musses her hair with both hands, looks adorably unkempt for it. “Here we go. Real world. Facing the music. I’ll text you later?”

“Perfect.” She steps to Dani, gives her one quick kiss for the road, shuts the door behind her whilst smiling more than she cares to admit.

Dani gets halfway down the walk, stops, turns back before Jamie’s turned the deadbolt. For a moment Jamie thinks she’s going to have to physically bar Dani from her home – could she even? – but Dani’s just come back with a hail Mary: “What about tonight? Want to come to Uncle Frank’s Christmas Eve party with me, like old times?”

Jamie’s mind flashes to Dani in a party dress. Always a good thing – Dani’s taste runs to the just-this-side-of-scandalous, and she’s sure there will be plenty of thigh on display, likely also shoulders, cleavage – and, maybe that’s too much of a good thing. No, she’d be in agony; Jamie doesn’t have the fortitude any longer to be near Dani and not be touching her. Best to avoid public gatherings. Besides, Jamie also has a family to see, one that she doesn’t dread.

Dani’s pout at being turned down – even if it is for Mikey, her favorite kid brother in Davenport – is somewhat heartbreaking, and requires three more kisses of increasing intensity to correct.

In Dani’s absence, Jamie’s house feels cold and too quiet. She kicks around in the kitchen, starts a grocery list, scraps it when she realizes it’s Christmas Eve and the store will be packed. Tries to read, but can’t concentrate, not while she’s lying on the same couch where Dani Clayton’s legs were draped over her shoulders not twenty-four hours prior. Eventually she decides to make good on the excuse she gave Dani and head in to work for a bit. While it’s not strictly necessary, it can’t hurt – the plants are watered on a timer, but always appreciate a little extra; the paperwork will still be there next week, but why procrastinate?

Ten minutes later, after pulling on a well-worn coverall and packing an extra thermos of tea, she’s flying up US 61 past barren cornfields and the tiny municipal airport, past battalions of dull silver silos and the environment-defying green carpets of golf courses at the country clubs that keep her lights on. She flits between radio presets, unable to focus her attention on any one song or news story. She wonders, with a novel blend of amusement and aggravation, when she’ll be able to settle the fuck down. Hopes that being with her plants, in a space untouched by Dani, will help regulate this jumpy heartbeat, this antsy energy which could not feel more foreign to steady, deliberate Jamie.

And she does feel herself ground a bit when she slides open the door to the main nursery, breathes in deeply, welcoming the dark scent of soil front and center, the ever-present manure undertones, the brightness of all her plucky little seedlings pricking around the edges. The quiet, too, is soothing, the only sounds the slow drip of life-giving water emanating from the automatic system and the low hum of the ventilation fan above. Even the visuals inside the nursery soothe: the palette of greens washes over her like a balm, and the rich wood of the oak beams supporting the roof segment the filtered light from filmy windows in an ordered yet organic pattern.

This return to normalcy, however, is short-lived. She’s not been there fifteen minutes – has hardly had time to start her supplemental watering, tugging the hose off its storage roller and down each successive row of winter starts – before her phone buzzes in the front bib pocket of her coverall. A quick glance confirms what she suspects – a text notification from Dani, whose name she had last night keyed in, made a proper contact.

[Dani]

1:42 pm

Hey, so…coming home was a huge mistake
LOL

Should’ve stayed at yours.

Did you end up going in to work?

She’s playing catchup on this conversation already – why is Dani so quick with her texts? Too many conversational threads at once. But Jamie’s not really annoyed, so she plays along, answering the messages in the order in which they were received:

Oh no, I’m sorry. It’s really bad huh?

You could have. You’re welcome
anytime.

Yeah here now

Lots to do?

Thank god Dani’s apparently content to stick to one line of thought, Jamie thinks, so long as I can keep up. And thank god she’s not interrogating “you’re welcome anytime” too closely – Jamie’s not sure that passes the “one day at a time” test, and it doesn’t do much for keeping her grounded, either.

Not too much. Plants need water,
but mostly back-room work today.
Billing. Books.

Boring shite.

Should’ve stayed at yours.

Ha, yeah, maybe so.

This is Dani flirting, Jamie knows, and she blushes despite being alone in the nursery, feels too old for this, and yet decides to embrace the frivolity of it, since it’s apparently not going to stop (and she’s definitely not going to ask for it to).

What are you doing that’s so terrible
anyway? Been put on mop duty?

Ha nothing so awful as that

Nothing really, just

Bored. It’s sad over here. Too many
memories and not many good ones.

Jamie stops where she is with the hose to compose a thoughtful answer.

I’m sorry. Really.

Can you get away for a bit by yourself?

Yeah, actually am doing just that.
I’m here

A loading message floats below the words for a few moments, then a photo of Dani’s childhood bedroom appears. Everything’s the same, the pink walls, the bulletin board burgeoning with photos, ticket stubs, and other memorabilia, the mirror hung with Mardi Gras beads and bright feather boas. Jamie muses how odd it is that Karen Clayton hasn’t reclaimed Dani’s old room for a home gym or something – she has so little regard for Dani’s space, physical or emotional. But then, paradoxically it makes sense, because Jamie knows intuitively that turning Dani’s room into a museum exhibit isn’t for Dani; it’s for Karen – she can hear her saccharine voice now, You know, I keep her room just the way she left it, every little thing. My little girl. Wish she’d come home more often. That such a backhanded, gaslighting woman had managed to produce open, kind Dani was a miracle. 

Pretending to nap.

No offense but I see more memories in
 that one photo than I could list right
here. Meant maybe go for a walk or
something.

Mmm but on a walk I can’t lay
here and think about last night.

Oh. Okay then. Jamie replaces the hose on its roller, having provided each of her seedlings a nice holiday drink, and she’s relinquishing her hard-won calm with relish, accepting in an instant that no actual work will take place today. As she shuffles toward the tiny back room that serves as her office, she taps out:

Point taken.

And what are you thinking about
exactly?

The moments it takes Dani to type out her next message are excruciating, are delicious, are just long enough for Jamie to shut the office door (against whom? no one is here, yet she feels the need for maximum privacy), settle into her desk chair.

Thinking about your head between
my legs.

Jamie’s stomach somersaults, and she smirks to herself. She’d never have described Dani as a prude, exactly, but…proper. Buttoned up, just a bit. Suburban, maybe, is the word. She’s realizing, in the best manner possible, that this has been very unfair of her.

And how is that for you?

Oh, it’s very good, thank you 😉

Jamie laughs out loud, breaking the silence in the small room. Despite minutes ago feeling desperate for alone time, for quiet, for order, she’s all of a sudden craving contact. She runs the fingers of one hand through her hair, pulls one short time to focus her attention.

Tease. What am I doing down there?

You tell me.

It’s been awhile since Jamie engaged in…creative writing…but her mouth is dry and she’s buzzing already with things she wants to say to Dani that she knows will get her worked up.  

I’m licking your thighs

Mmmmm

More please

Licking closer, kissing your legs

You’re the tease

Dammit

What are you doing to yourself?

Oh nothing, because you’re being a tease

Can’t be coy now. Not fair.

Fine. I’m touching myself.

Are you wet?

I am. Really fucking wet.

I bet you feel so good. You’re going
to taste even better.

Oh god, please Jamie

Please lick me again

It’s the again that does it, makes Jamie pulse her thighs together, press a fist quickly into her lap, then move it back up to hold the phone again.

Putting my tongue all over you

Inside you

Fuck, Dani you are so good

Oh god, Jamie

Don’t stop, fuck, that’s so good

When she realizes she’s rocking on the edge of her desk chair, grinding down into the seat beneath her, she quickly throws out what little inhibition she had left.

OK if I touch myself too? So turned
on by you

Fuck yes, baby, please touch yourself

Thatbaby – is new. And it sends a shock through Jamie’s core just as she’s jerking the zipper of her coverall down and shoving her hand into her underwear. Her clit is throbbing, hard, and she takes care to drift her fingers around, but not too near, not yet.

I bet you feel so good. Let me feel you.

I’m so fucking wet for you Dani.

Jamie, fuck. Let me finger you.

Oh yes, yes please. Fuck me Dani,
I’m ready

I know you are baby. How many
fingers?

Three

Shit.

I want you to fill me up

Oh god yes, I am. I am and it feels so
good

It does, indeed. Jamie thinks she’s never done anything this brazen, sitting with her coveralls hanging down by her sides, legs spread wide, fucking herself senseless as Dani does the same six miles away.  

Oh god Jamie I’m getting so close

Just tell me when you’re ready, baby,
 I’ll give it to you

She’s working her own hand harder, eyes shut imagining Dani, riding it out, taking as much pleasure as she can handle before demanding relief. Her mind, too easily, fills in the panting, moans, gasps that she knows Dani’s producing right now under her imagined hands, and she realizes belatedly that she’s making many of those sounds herself, out loud, in her office.

Oh fuck

I’m ready

Please Jamie make me come I’m gonna
come

Kissing your clit until you come

Keep your fingers inside

I want to feel you

Come for me Dani

She doesn’t expect responses anymore, but keeps going in case Dani’s still somehow reading as she tips over the edge:

Fuck yes baby that’s right

Oh god yes

Ride it out that’s right

You’re making me close

Fuck fuck Dani yes baby

I'm gonna come

She’s hearing Dani’s screams, filthy loud rough screams of her own name in her hears, and she realizes she’s biting down into her lower lip so hard she might be bleeding. She slams the phone down at last, uses both hands properly to reach her own strangled, silent-screaming orgasm.    

A minute later, Jamie picks her head up off her desk, sees Dani’s next message:

I wish you were here to do this right.

Later, baby. Promise.

Fuck, fuck I love that.

I’m coming over tonight.

You better.

-

 

Chapter Text

The rest of Jamie’s afternoon is a blur – she’s just done something that a few days ago she could scarcely imagine, with someone about whom she scarcely lets herself think. Now she needs to steady herself in time for her family’s traditional Christmas Eve get-together, after which it seems highly likely that she’ll be once again pressed into Dani’s body, making Dani moan and pant, feeling Dani’s fingers as they…not helping. She turns the shower knob colder.

She dresses in smart black slacks, grey button-down, red bowtie so she doesn’t get called a Scrooge. Pulls her hair back from her face with a clip, adds silver hoop earrings to soften the look, and at the last minute, a swipe of well-loved lipstick rummaged out of a small, but functionally stocked, makeup bag shoved to one side of the vanity.

-

The gathering, like the family hosting it, is reliably warm, comfortable, and a needed respite from the rest of the world. When Jamie lets herself in the wreath-decked front door, she hears her mom’s laugh pealing down the hallway from the kitchen, carrying with it the scent of baked treats, clean laundry, home.

Being adopted as a teenager is nearly unheard-of. Being adopted by a family who welcomes you with open arms, who lavishes love not just on the chubby-cheeked toddler that you know was who they really wanted, but also on you, even when you’re a predictably surly teenager, even when you shy away from anything resembling care for months due to your own trauma, well, that’s a once-in-a-blue-goddamn-moon miracle. So every single time Jamie crosses the threshold into her parents’ home – because that’s how she thinks of Jim and Amy Wilson, has since she was about 18 and joined Mikey in calling them Mom and Dad – she sends up a prayer of gratitude to the gods of good fortune.

And just as she has every time Jamie has arrived back home, Amy comes running when she hears her daughter kicking off her boots by the door, hanging her coat.

“Jamie, love, you’re here! Merry Christmas!” and Jamie is enveloped in a vanilla-scented hug.

“Hi mom, Merry Christmas to you,” Jamie returns, “Where’s the rugrat?”

“Ha! Not sure your big-little brother is worthy of that nickname anymore,” Amy smiles broadly, then calls merrily for her youngest: “Mikey! Jamie’s here!”

Mikey comes shuffling down the hall the very picture of 13 years old, slouchy and vaguely annoyed.  

“Hi, sis,” he says. “Mom, not Mikey anymore, Mike, OK? Seriously.” Jamie grins at his deepened voice, bearing none of her own accent, his petulant, teen-boy pride mellowed by the way he unselfconsciously hugs Jamie hard – his chin already at her forehead – and then goes to lean against their mom. Among Mikey’s good fortunes – Jamie will eventually make the shift to his preferred name, but not yet –are that, due to his young age when they were adopted, emotional health and physical affection come as easily to him as speech patterns that match the locals.  

Jim rounds the corner then, just come in the back door with a fresh bundle of wood to feed the fire in the living room. “Ah, here’s where the party is!” he booms out, ruffling Jamie’s hair affectionately and beaming at Mikey and his wife. “Where ya been, kiddo? Usually see you a lot more this week. Busy up at the nursery?”

Jamie stammers for a moment, berates herself for not foreseeing this. Sometimes she still forgets that her family cares where she is; wants her to be near them whenever possible; are curious about the goings-on in her everyday life.

“I’ve, uh, actually been catching up with some old friends, in town for the holidays, you know,” she says: the truth, but vague.

“Oh, that’s great. Anyone I’d remember?” Jim Wilson is far too genial for vague references to old friends.

“Actually, yeah…” Jamie stammers. She’s not sure why, but she’s not looking forward to this disclosure. “Uh, Dani Clayton?” she fairly winces at the name, at how she says it as if her family could ever not remember her very best friend.

“Oh my gosh, honey, that’s great!” Amy exclaims.

“Why didn’t you say so?” Jim says at the same time, “She should be here tonight; did you invite her? I’ve missed that girl!”

“Yeah, I had too,” Jamie says quietly, wishing desperately they could just move on.

Mikey does what little brothers do best: says aloud the thing you want most in the world for them not to in any given moment: “Dani? Awkward. I thought you two weren’t a thing anymore,” and walks away with a shrug. How a person can be so emotionally intelligent and yet so self-involved is beyond Jamie, but that’s bloody kids.

Amy is turning toward her now with concerned eyes – Mikey’s little contribution having clued her in to the fact that there might be something to the sudden reappearance of Dani’s name in her vocabulary – and Jamie’s head is spinning, grasping for how she can get out of a family therapy session or any more uncomfortable admissions right here in the hallway.

But then the doorbell chimes, and the Wilsons’ other guests begin to arrive: not many, but enough to make the house feel full and create the pleasant din of chatter, red wine, and holiday mirth that Jamie will always associate with Christmas.

Two hours later, she’s perched on the hearth, letting the fire warm her back while she sips red wine and observes the party – she’s available for socializing, but isn’t one to initiate. Her parents’ guests drift by her position on the periphery as they please, asking after the business, reminiscing about when she and Mikey were younger, then, they move on. Her dad stops by occasionally to nudge her to the kitchen – “Your mom just put out more meatballs, better move fast!” or to refill her glass.

She’s just finished doing a very polite smile-and-nod routine as her mom’s friend Melanie humble-brags about her own daughter’s acceptance into various colleges when Mikey beelines for her from the direction of the hall. He looks slightly concerned, and is holding something out in her direction – her phone.

“Hey, uh, you left this in your coat pocket, but you’re blowing up. I could hear it from the kitchen – thought it might be important.”

She swipes the phone from his hand, glances down, sees that indeed, she has 16 notifications, and at least the four that fit on the front screen are from Dani. She’s just about to fuss at Mikey for being so like his peers, at the mercy of social media likes and follows – can’t a person put their phone down for a real-life gathering without watching to see how their latest Instagram post does? – when she registers what the texts likely contain, never mind what’s definitely there in her text history in blazing detail.

“Did you read these?” she asks fiercely, pointing the phone back at her brother in an accusatory gesture.

“Uh, no. Just thought you might like to know. Sor-ry.” Mikey puts his hands up in a “never helping you out again” gesture, turns and shuffles off.

Jamie gathers her wits, and glancing around to make sure no one’s clocked the tense interaction as anything more than light sibling conflict, winds her way toward the staircase. Crisis averted (and debating deleting all the earlier texts ASAP even if it means losing the evidence her steamy afternoon), she decides to take a moment in her room to see what Dani’s been sending. For a few heady seconds as the climbs the stairs, lifting herself out of the party and into the privacy of the second floor, she wonders if she’d be as bold as Dani – would she…do anything here, in her own old bedroom?

She imagines what those 16 little gifts from Dani will be – a bathroom selfie showing off whatever sequined dress Dani’s wearing; flirty little innuendos; outright dirty propositions? But, as she settles onto her bed – her room is now a guest room, but bears clear marks that it was hers: a row of trophies from her high school competitions lines the bookshelf alongside several series of books that she hasn’t seen fit to migrate to hers yet – her hopes morph into sick worry.

The last text appears first on the home screen, time stamped about ten minutes ago:

[Dani]

9:23 pm

CSeriously Jamie pelas cal me

And knows that her guesses are all wrong, very very wrong. Her stomach fills with dread as she keys in the code to open her phone, quickly reads the string of messages in order.

[Dani]

7:11 pm

Well just as I suspected this party
is terrible.

You made a good call going to your
family’s instead of mine.

No surprises there I guess. Same as
when we were kids ☹

 

7:32 pm

My mom is on another level. Like, I
get it. Your perfect son in law died
and now your daughters alone in the
world, just getting a phd nothing
special nothing to see here

Like fuck me

Maybe I have feelings about this too?

 

7:50 pm

Sorry didn’t mean to        bring up
feelings about Eddie to you. Was
that weird?

 

7:56 pm

It’s becom clear to me that I cant
do anything right tonight so I’m
getting wasted 

More wasted

 

8:41 pm

My mom doesnt     even realize I had
6 frinks and im istting alone
with my pnhone liek a loser

 

8:53 pm

Jamie

Jamie I was jus thinking your
are the literally the only thing
that is warth cming back to thas
 shithole townn for an when I wish
 I hand not ben barn here I hiink
about you n I chang my mind a littttle   

 

9:08 pm

I don know I f I can be here naymore

I do’nt belong at rhis party or thix
town fuck all this I ohy blong where u are

will u cal me

 

9:23 pm

CSeriously Jamie pelas cal me

Jamie stabs at the little phone icon below Dani’s name as fast as she registers what her friend has been doing, what she’s been going through and asking for, what she’ll think Jamie’s been ignoring.

The phone rings just half of once before Jamie’s ears are pummeled with Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and the rough sounds of Dani drunkenly trying to fit the phone to her ear.

“Dani?”

Jamie thinks she hears something – a little sound in front of the ruckus of a very different party than the one playing out below her feet. She presses her phone hard into one ear, digs a finger into the opposite one.  

“Dani, I can’t hear you. Can you go outside?”

“Yeah,” comes the small, shaky voice, and Jamie can hear that she’s walking.

“Hey, baby, put your coat on, it’s really cold.”

A loud sniff, a sob. “Kay.” Lots more rustling. More steps. Finally, the party disappears, replaced by near-silence: gusts of wind, faint windchimes, and heavy, ragged breathing: Dani’s crying.

“Hey, Dani, I’m so sorry. I…I’m at my parents’ party, and my phone was in my coat. I’m so sorry I missed your messages. Are you okay?” She knows Dani is unequivocally not okay, but she needs to get her to talk, needs to assess how bad it is, before she can decide what’s to be done.

“Uh, yeah. No. I’onno. I hate it here.” Dani’s speech is slurred, but not nearly to the degree that her texts were. Noted.

“How did you get there, Dani? Did you ride with your mom?”

“Yeah. Told her this afternoon I didn’ wanna come. Sh’lectured me fer an hour about how I should be grateful t’have somewhere to be on Christmas, ‘specially ‘cause I’m basically a widow at 25.”

Jamie feels her face contort into an expression of silent disgust as Dani continues, lets it all spill out.

“An’ since we got ‘ere everyone’s been treatin’ me like I’m a fuckin’ charity case or somethin’ but do they ask me how I feel? Noooooo, they do not. Jus’ keep givin’ me advice I don’ need and tellin’ me not to worry, cuz I’m still young enough an’ pretty enough to find another man.”

“God, Dani, I’m so sorry she’s being so awful to you. Sorry they all are. You’re right, you can’t be there anymore. Listen, I’m going to come get you and take you home, OK?”

“Nooooooo,” Dani whines, “You’re with yer family and they’re sooooo much better’n mine. Don’ leave’m for me.” Then, quieter, “Don’t deserve it.”

“I’m gonna ignore that, Clayton, because you’re still my friend, and my friends deserve to be safe and not treated like shit by their own people. Coming to get you whether you like it or not. And, hey, my family is great, yeah, but if I have to listen to another of my mom’s friends talking about how much holiday weight they’ve put on while they’re watching me put away five buckeyes, I’m gonna scream.”

“Mmm, your mom’s buckeyes are the best,” Dani sighs.

“I’ll snag some for you on my way out,” Jamie says, glad that she seems to have redirected Dani’s energy. “Hey, what have you eaten? Did you have dinner?”

Dani’s voice turns dark again. “Not really. Y’know my mom’s the worst one for that. She tried t’make me wear her Spanx tonight. Said I put on some weight since Eddie, could tell from th’way m’dress fits.” Dammit, not such a great redirect after all. “She took a cookie out of m’hand when we got here, said the punch has ‘nough calories for the whole night.”

Jamie sighs deeply. “Okay, this is what I want you to do. Go back inside – ”

“Yeah, s’snowin’.” She can hear Dani smile, her childlike love of snow unimpeded by even a terrible evening.    

“Oh, wow! Okay, so, baby, listen.” Jamie needs Dani to focus, so she pulls out the pet name to grab her attention. “Go back inside, and find your purse, wait for me. See if you can get something to eat. No more drinks, okay? Maybe some water? I’ll be there in…” she does a quick calculation based on her years-old memory of where Dani’s uncle lives, a posh suburban neighborhood in the next town over “about 20 minutes. Maybe 25. I can take you to your house, or to mine, okay?”

“Mmmm’kay baby,” Jamie imagines Dani smiling dreamily into the words, and her stomach tightens before she gets ahold of it – because that’s not what’s important right now. Dani’s text, I’m coming over tonight – the one that Jamie’s been holding like a secret all day – is of another lifetime now, and Jamie needs to shift into friend mode. Because more than possibly anyone else Jamie’s ever encountered, Dani needs a friend right now. A damn good one. Which Jamie has been, and can be. Will be.

Jamie hustles back downstairs, locates her parents to wish them a good night and apologize for having to duck out early.

“You okay, kiddo?” Jim asks, concerned. “Where ya running off to?”

“Need to give a friend a safe ride home,” Jamie says solemnly, knowing this is the golden ticket with her dad, who has always been one of those call us anytime, no judgement, we just want you to be safe parents. She’s right; he beams upon hearing the words.

“That’s my girl! Be safe, and we’ll see you tomorrow.” He gives her a quick side hug – Jim Wilson is emotionally intelligent, but still a midwestern man – and ruffles her hair.

-

Back in her truck, navigating streets turned fairly quiet this time of the night on Christmas Eve, Jamie makes a quick calculation, decides that the extra four minutes it will take to hit up a drive through is worth it for the guarantee that Dani will have some real food – and she could use some herself, to be honest. She sets her course for the nearest location of Dani’s high school favorite, Taco John’s, and orders three different burritos: steak, chicken, and a vegetarian one, just in case.

As promised, it’s just over 20 minutes from when she’d hung up with Dani until she’s pulling into the circle drive of a house she last set foot in about eight years ago, she and Dani having convinced their parents to let them attend each other’s family parties once they could be trusted to drive between them. She’d briefly wondered on the way over if she would need to call Dani back, get an address or directions, but her memory had kicked in with the few turns – across the river, left at the courthouse – needed to get to Dani’s uncle’s place.

Jamie’s maneuvering her truck among the haphazardly parked vehicles lining the driveway, thinking she should have parked on the street and walked in to find Dani, when she realizes Dani ignored at least one of her instructions: she’s sitting on a decorative bench near the front walk, visibly shivering. Jamie throws the truck into park, leaps out, runs to her.

“Dani, Jesus, why are you out here? It’s freezing.” She brushes wet snow from Dani’s hair and the shoulders of – fuck, a thin cardigan is all she’s wearing over her dress.

“Baby, come on, let’s –”

“DON’T call me that,” Dani growls. “Don’t deserve it.”

Jamie, confused at this quick turn, nevertheless soldiers on, shepherding Dani to the truck. Dani gives one big, wet sob and lets herself be led, head down, hair ruined and dripping. Jamie boosts Dani inside, stops to make sure the heat vent is directed properly before shutting the door gently, running back around to take her own place.

“OK, well, we can talk about your poor outerwear choices later” – a tiny, sad laugh from Dani – “as well as what you do and don’t deserve, but for now, let’s get you warm. Truck’s far from new, but the heat works great.” She cranks the dial, increasing the stream of air issuing forth from the dashboard to a blast. “Brought you something.” She opens the paper bag in Dani’s direction, and Dani looks in, her eyes curious but clouded with why-are-you-being-so-nice-to-me misery.

“You brought me…three burritos?” her lower lip wavers, like the food might be the thing that pushes her back into tears. On the upside, Jamie notices that Dani’s speech sounds more solid, less blurred, than on the phone, and she’s pretty sure the glaze of Dani’s eyes is from tears rather than alcohol, to the degree that those things can be separated.

Jamie chuckles. “Well, I brought you one. Or two. And hopefully one for me. Figure we both need some real food. Got three kinds because, well, didn’t know what you might be eating these days. California does funny things to people, I’ve heard. So I got a vegetarian one in case, as well as a chicken and a steak.” She points to each in turn, then holds the bag out for Dani to choose.

Dani’s face is awash in gratitude, but the heavy tinge of sadness remains. “Guess I stayed strong,” she says, taking the chicken burrito that Jamie had truly intended for her, unwraps it and tucks in, clearly starving underneath all her self-deprecating sadness.

Jamie would have been content to sit and eat for a bit while Dani gets warm and comes back into herself enough so that they can plan their next move – and so she can suss out this new turmoil clouding Dani – but some other partygoers are spilling out of the house and stumbling toward cars, so she puts the truck in gear. It’ll be good to get Dani some distance from that place and those people anyway, but isn’t quite sure where to head next. Jamie’s house would be logical, if it didn’t feel like it came with new connotations that aren’t quite appropriate to this moment. Nor does she feel good about dumping Dani back at Karen’s just yet. So, she settles for a delay tactic, pulls into an otherwise deserted riverfront park where they can sit in the warmth of the truck’s cab and watch the snow – now coming down in big, sloppy flakes – fall over the dark, churning Mississippi.  

As Jamie unwraps her own food, she turns toward Dani, who now just seems incredibly tired: she’s holding the last third of her own burrito limp in her lap, slumped down in her seat. Jamie had been right about the dress, she notices now – it’s a burgundy lace number, and so incredibly short that it reminds Jamie again of one of her key gripes about traditional women’s clothing: absolutely no regard for seasonal context. She catches herself looking for the freckles that she (now) knows (did she know about them before? she can’t remember) are scattered across the fair skin there, before remembering her mission here: friend. Good friend. Good friend to someone whose eyes are cast dejectedly downward, whose shoulders are hunched, who looks like they need nothing more than a good night’s sleep and a fresh run at the world tomorrow.

She’s just about to be that friend, give Dani the choice of spending the night at Jamie’s – Jamie will take the couch – or being dropped off at her mom’s place, when Dani speaks first.

“You know, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking since I got home. Since I saw you out at the bar.”

“Yeah?” Jamie has no idea where this is going, wasn’t expecting Dani to have a lot more to say tonight, and it’s making her incredibly nervous, her unease only heightened by the way Dani suddenly seems sober as stone.

“Yeah. I know it doesn’t seem like it—” Dani laughs, straightening her body in a pose of resolve, of mustering reserves. “Kinda been flying by the seat of my pants with…” she gestures vaguely back and forth between them, “but, I have.” She sits silent, for a beat, pensive.

“And I know my texts from earlier were kind of a mess. Okay, a huge, hot mess, but I read them again while I was waiting for you, and it hit me. Or, I guess, I let it hit me. Because I knew.” She’s looking at Jamie expectantly, as if maybe Jamie is supposed to chime in with the rest of the story herself. But Jamie really, honestly, isn’t sure where Dani’s going. From the concern spreading across her features, she fears it’s somewhere like, I should never have done this, or, what were we thinking, or, I’m sorry I dragged you into all this.

Jamie, as is her habit when she doesn’t know what to say, says nothing, but maintains I’m listening eye contact, nervous but willing to wait.

“I’ve known this for a while, few years at least, because every time I’d come home I’d wonder when I was going to run into you. I’d look forward to it, even though it was awkward as hell, y’know?”

“Yeah, it damn sure was,” Jamie agrees, shaking her head.

“And Eddie was always with me – God, he was always with me,” Dani says as an aside, “and I just wanted, like, a few minutes with you, to see if it still felt the same, if maybe we could fix it.” She sighs deeply, and Jamie grimaces – most of what she’s describing is too familiar.

“And, I’ll be honest. I almost didn’t come home this year. I had excuses ready, big important paper to write, all that. My mom wouldn’t’ve been happy, but I could’ve begged her off, played the grief card, the career goals card. But then I thought – this time, when I see Jamie, he won’t be there. I’ll be alone, and maybe we can talk, alone. See where that takes us.”

Jamie laughs then. “Took us right to the bathroom at Harrington’s, a time-honored Davenport tradition.”

“Yeah, I didn’t see that coming, honestly – I mean, I’m not exactly sorry it happened, in hindsight, but that wasn’t my plan.” Dani says, sheepish.

“No, that was all the beer’s plan,” Jamie grins, knocking a loose fist against Dani’s shoulder, then pulling her hand away again – it’s easier to be a good friend to someone who’s recently been under, over, and inside you if you don’t touch them.

“Okay, I mean, I had thought about it, I just…didn’t know how quickly it was going to come to that. If you must know,” Dani says primly, rolls her eyes.

“So, anyway,” now Dani’s smiling around the words, and they’re coming easier, the mood having shifted with their recognition of the happy chain of events they’ve found themselves in. Good friend, Jamie reminds herself sternly. “I literally only came home this week to see you, and talk to you,” – good friend – “and see if…see if it’s still true. And I didn’t need more than a day to figure out that it is.”

“What is?”

“Getting there,” Dani assures her. “It’s kind of a long story that took a long time to figure out.” All of a sudden, insecurity spikes on her face again, and she turns to look Jamie square in the eye. “But, it is late, huh? Do you want to go? We can…we can talk about this some other time…” It’s clear Dani does not want this at all, but is offering in case Jamie does, in case Jamie is tired of this, in case Jamie is tired of Dani. Jamie would rather go jump in the bloody black waters of the river than leave this conversation now, and says as much.

“I want to hear whatever you have to tell me, Dani. Promise.” She can’t help but make contact then – Dani’s been hurting so badly, is working so hard to put all this out there, and Jamie wants to hear it, wants to understand, but also just wants to comfort her. So she reaches out a hand, rests it on Dani’s shoulder, squeezes. Slides it down to loosely grasp Dani’s hand in what could be considered a friendly way – see if it’s welcome there – and Dani doesn’t shake it off as she continues, voice still steady, but quieter:

“You were right, back then. I was running. Running away from the feeling of not belonging. I’ve known since I was little that I didn’t belong in my family. I did with my dad, and when he died, it’s like my spot in our family – the spot for the real me – did too.” Jamie’s stomach sinks – she knows all too well the feeling that the one place everyone says is safe – home – is anything but.

“All that was left was this…paper doll shape my mom made up for her perfect daughter. So that’s what I tried to be. And then I meet Eddie, and he had a shape picked out too, perfect friend, perfect girlfriend, perfect wife. And the shapes…they matched, Eddie’s and my mom’s. And it was like…too much of a coincidence, I figured, must be what I was meant to be like. And it was easier to just try and fit than to fight two people – my two most important people, until you showed up – over what my life was supposed to be like.”

Jamie’s having to work to stay quiet now, to let Dani spool out this story the way it needs to be told, uninterrupted and whole. But inside, she’s a turmoil of emotions: rage – at Karen, at Eddie, for ever dreaming they could constrain this magnificent person, at the unfairness of kids losing parents and losing home;  deep regret – that she didn’t see it earlier, didn’t do more for Dani back then; despair – because what can be done now in the face of such a massive hurt?

“But then…” Dani continues, “then I met you. And you were just so perfectly yourself, you were like no one I’d ever met before. And all of a sudden there was another possibility for me – I know you said you went along with how I was, like everyone else, but that’s not true, Jamie. You…never asked me to be anything I wasn’t. I never felt like you had any expectations of me other than being a decent human being. When I was around you, I could just…see what other shapes I might take.” Jamie’s heart lifts one rung at the suggestion that she had done something, that she had alleviated Dani’s pain even a bit, even for a while.

“And it was fun, and good, and freeing, and…scary as fuck. Because it showed me that I was, actually, making a choice every time I fit myself into that other shape I was being given. And then, then high school ended. I was ready to get the hell out of here, thought if I could get away from this place and this family that made me feel so…smothered, that maybe I could be more like you, or really, more like me when I’m with you, but I just made the same mistake over and over.”  

“And so, what I figured out is, Jamie, you’re the only person I’ve ever felt I belonged with. And I came home to see if that was still true.” Jamie’s heart flutters, a fledgling, a fool, dreaming of flight.

The last has an air of finality to it, but Jamie needs to hear all of it to know how high to let her heart float, “And…”

“And it is. Of course it is. It’s so cheesy, I know. I wish I had a better way to say it, but I don’t. I just belong when I’m with you. Just like I thought. Hoped.” Hope is flaring in Jamie’s heart, too, a frenzy of wingbeats against the cage of her ribs for a brief second before it crashes into the same reality check Dani does as she adds, “But that deserves – you deserve – so much more than a week of sex with someone with regrets who’s just gonna get on an airplane and leave. Again.”   

And there it is. The hardest thing. The worst thing. The rock-bottom truth of the stalemate they got tripped up on years ago, but didn’t have the language or the experience to name: Dani doesn’t belong here, never has, but this is the only place Jamie ever has belonged, the only home and family that’s ever been safe for her. Fuck.

-

They sit, silent, the facts of the case newly unfolded resting around them. Jamie’s mind ping-pongs between two polar conclusions:

1) This won’t work, for reasons that haven’t changed just because we can talk about them like adults now; we’ve got to stick to one day at a time; keep it simple, head down to the huge glaring fucking fact that simple was never an option; let Sunday bring what it will. Even smarter, if you know what’s good for you, say good night and goodbye now and thanks for the closure, the sooner to start the healing process over again.

Or.

2) We can make it work; do the impossible; try at least with all our might, as stupid and corny and romantic as that sounds. Because you can’t ignore the fact that, as much as you feel safe and at home in your life now, the past two days have brought you from sepia into living color in a way you didn’t realize was missing.

As a mental exercise for a relatively risk-averse person seated calmly at her desk, the two options would stand at an impasse, each carrying the weight of truth behind it and offering something Jamie wants ahead. But Jamie is not sitting at a desk. She is sitting two feet from Dani.

Dani, who is watching for her reaction with wide, solemn eyes. Dani, who is gnawing on her lower lip as she gives Jamie space and time to think before speaking. Dani, the sight of whom across a crowded bar sent Jamie into a speed spiral from yearning to caring to action in moments. Dani, whose presence in her life this week has shaken her to her core, made her do things and think things and feel things she hasn’t in years, hasn’t ever. Dani, whose name she still dreams sometimes, in whispers, who she wakes looking for across an empty bed, whose welfare she still wonders about more than she’d ever admit to anyone. Dani, who she loves, has loved since they met.

So it’s no contest, not really. Do the impossible. Try at least with all our might.

When Jamie finally speaks, she says first the bravest thing she’s ready to – not I love you, no, not time for that, but,

“I belong when I’m with you, too.”

Dani’s face breaks into a relieved, wide smile that says – the first hurdle, passed. Jamie continues,

“You’re right. I like it here, and I have since I got here. I…belong, like you said, more than I ever have anywhere else. And my life here is good. But…it’s also lonely sometimes. And boring. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes…well, I forget what it’s like to not be boring. But you’ve reminded me.” She reaches for Dani’s hand again, takes it, smiles at the squeeze echoed back in now-warm fingers.

“And, to me at least, this week has already been more than just sex to make up for regrets – though if that’s all it was, it’s a two way street, and we agreed, yeah?” Dani shrugs, I guess so.

“But that’s not all it was. Not since, well, for me, not since you walked into my house, and I felt like we were picking back up right where we’d left off. I’ve been trying, mostly failing, if I’m honest, to stay the course since then – one day at a time – but…that’s not us. Not really, not at all. I knew that, deep down, but figured something was better than nothing, and I reckoned could live with that.” She shakes her head at her own willful delusion.

“I tried to keep it simple even while we were agreeing that nothing between us has ever been simple.”

“Good, but not simple,” Dani repeats, remembering.

“Exactly. Being with you has been – is – so, so good. Good doesn’t even start to capture it, really,” Jamie laughs, and she reaches up to cup Dani’s face, strokes her thumb across the dried tear tracks of mascara staining perfect cheeks.

“Agreed,” Dani says, leaning the weight of her head into Jamie’s hand, letting herself be held, caressed.

“And, I know you have to leave. We have very different lives in different places,” Jamie ventures, treading lightly over this next part, the part she herself is least sure about, “but…maybe we could…keep taking it one day at a time? For however long that makes sense to both of us. But, like, properly this time. Eyes open, no fooling ourselves about what’s happening or not.”

Dani looks like she’s just been given everything she ever wanted but didn’t know how to ask. “Really?” she whispers, breath hitching in disbelief.

“Yeah,” Jamie answers, the most obvious thing in the world. “I don’t know what that’s going to look like on Sunday, or next week, or next month, but…I want to find out. Badly. If you do.”

Dani doesn’t answer with words. She answers with a leap across the seat, nearly into Jamie’s lap. She answers by tangling her hands into Jamie’s hair, pulling her close and staring into her eyes, smiling, for several long seconds before pressing a kiss hard onto Jamie’s mouth. She answers with a brush of tongue across lips, a brush of her fingers across the back of Jamie’s neck, a brush of her knee against Jamie’s thigh as she shifts to get closer.

Jamie lets these touches wash over her in waves, desire and wanting and fulfillment of wishes she’d barely imagine, much less voice. For all the times Dani has kissed her in the past days, this one is new and different – it’s the most honest kiss, with the barest intentions and highest aim – they’ve shared. And it hits like a drug. Jamie feels her head tip backward, feels a sound that’s half moan and half laugh of pure relief build up in her chest and bubble out into the heated air, feels – a sweep of high beams cross her closed eyes.

She jumps back – “Shit.” The telltale black-and-white paint job of the car sets her heart pounding even when she’s done nothing wrong. She clears her throat, glances at Dani – “Seatbelts. Looks like we’re no longer welcome to loiter down by the river,” and shifts into reverse, rolling her eyes. The brake lights coming to life seem to be enough for the officer to decide there’s no need to actually walk over and engage, and for that, Jamie is thankful. She drives painfully slowly out of the parking lot, down the service road, and, giving many many seconds of blinker before making her turn, exits the park. Her heart is pounding at what feels like a high school near-miss but that she knows can turn dark very quickly, no matter the year and how far we’ve all supposedly come. Even so, the adrenaline makes them both erupt into giggles as soon as they’re out of sight, danger averted.

“Okay, here’s what I think we do,” Jamie opens again, ready to plan for action even as she’s negotiating increasingly snow-covered streets. “You’re coming to my place tonight. You promised, after all,” she grins quickly over at Dani, who gives as good back, dimples showing. “Tomorrow’s Christmas, so you’re going back to Karen’s. Where you’re going to do the bare minimum so that you won’t feel guilty and she can’t complain. Open presents. Stay for lunch. After that, you guys usually just nap, watch TV, right?” Dani nods. “Great. Then, I’m coming to get you, and all your things.”

Dani’s eyebrows raise. “I’m…listening,” she says.

“That’s it. You’ll stay with me until your flight Sunday.” Normally, Jamie is a superfan for Team Boundaries, but one thing that’s been sinking in for her in real time this week is that there are the boundaries you set for yourself, and then there are the ones imposed on you – like, say, a painfully short amount of available time – that you have to deal with any way that makes sense, even if that means leaping them and barrel rolling when you hit the other side. And in this case…

“If we’re taking it one day at a time, I don’t want to waste any of it having you miserable somewhere you hate being. I mean, if all that’s okay with you.” She belatedly realizes that in her ignited state, she hasn’t yet run this grand plan by Dani.  

“Jamie, are you serious? This is…perfect,” Dani says, eyes sparkling, and Jamie knows they’re doing the same calculation of how much time they’ll have left: tonight, half a day tomorrow, a full day Saturday, Sunday morning. A good amount of one day at a time to start out with, when it’s all said and done. Not enough, never enough, but good enough for now.

-

When they arrive back at Jamie’s place, it’s nearing midnight, and the exhaustion of the busy day, the emotional ups and downs, and the knowledge that they have a bit more time ahead combine to a joint decision to get some sleep.  

Jamie roots around in her closet and tosses Dani a pair of well-worn sweatpants and a soft t-shirt to change into, produces an array of new-in-the-package toothbrushes from her medicine cabinet, offers them to Dani so she can choose a color.

“Jamie, why do you have so many toothbrushes, just, right here?” Dani asks as she selects a purple one.

Jamie blushes, caught. “There may have been…a month or two over the summer where I played around on Tindr,” she confesses.

“And you bought toothbrushes? For your hookups?!” Dani, thank god, thinks this is charming and hilarious, and not pathetic and juvenile, which is how her whole let’s-try-having-flings thing now seems to Jamie. Casual did not suit her, at all. Fine for other people, maybe, but not for her.

“Seemed like the polite thing to do,” she mumbles, and shuffles off to wait for Dani, who’s still sporting a shit-eating grin, in bed.

When Dani joins her, Jamie clicks off her nightstand lamp, content to nuzzle down into Dani’s warmth in the darkness, finding by feel the spot where her face fits between Dani’s neck and her collarbone. Jamie takes in a deep breath, feels Dani mirror it, and they sink into each other like that for a minute.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Jamie says, lightly stroking along Dani’s side through her shirt. Though they’ve decided to sleep, she’s having trouble not touching, sees no reason to contain the urge.

“Me too,” Dani murmurs, tracing her own sleepy path up Jamie’s spine, around her shoulder blades, giving Jamie delicious tingles through her own thin sleepshirt. “Could do this for a long time.” She tilts her face down then to find Jamie’s lips, catch her in a slow, content, peppermint-toothpaste-flavored goodnight kiss.

Before she dozes off, Dani takes Jamie’s shoulders and rolls her onto her other side, “S’not how we sleep, dorkface,”and snuggles into her forever-big-spoon position. Only now, it feels the most intimate it ever has, even with the full sets of pajamas on both of them. Only now, Jamie’s allowed to think about how Dani’s breathing against her back feels like home. Only now, Jamie knows they’re on the same page about what it might be possible to want.

-

Jamie doesn’t know how long she’s been asleep, but knows she has been by the way there’s no leadup, just all of a sudden: Dani’s hands sliding warm onto her hips under her shirt, Dani’s nose bumping hers, Dani’s lips seeking hers out in the dark. She hums with sleepy surprise and pleasure, moves to meet the kiss Dani’s offering.

After too few moments, she feels Dani pull away, lean back, hears her whisper: “I can’t believe I missed out on this.”

“Not missing out now,” Jamie points out, not too drowsy to hear the regret behind the softness, desiring nothing so much as to burn off the sad, distill the sweetness of this moment into its purest form.

Dani leans in, kisses her again, thumb tracing Jamie’s jawline.

“Would have been just like this,” she whispers into Jamie’s mouth. Without thinking too hard, Jamie knows the if implied by Dani’s words: if years ago, when they routinely shared a bed, Dani had made the move she’s told Jamie she should’ve.

“Is like this now,” Jamie counters, trying to hush Dani by deepening the kiss, teasing her tongue against lips that again pull back.

“Would’ve had so much time,” it seems Dani can’t stop, that this bittersweet grief won’t go until it’s aired.

“True,” Jamie admits, willing to give the pain its due. “We did spend an awful lot of nights snuggled up together, close as we dared; could’ve been closer.” She feels Dani nod against her chin in agreement, hears and feels the deep sigh that issues forth.

There’s giving the pain its due, and then there’s making sure it takes no more than it’s owed: “…but, y’know, we’d also have been worried sick about your mother or mine coming through the door at any moment. Probably would’ve let that stop me from doing this,” and she rolls quickly and playfully on top of Dani, straddling her under the sheets, and for demonstrative effect, grinds down and throws her head back with an over-the-top shout – “Ah! Dani!”

Dani bursts into giggles at last, a delicious, golden sound that pairs impossibly well with the heat that’s pooling in Jamie just from the short bit of half-playacted contact.

“There’s something to adulthood, I s’pose,” Dani finally concedes, her laugh fading, voice deepening with arousal even as it comes more awake.

Jamie holds herself above Dani on hands placed squarely on the mattress outside Dani’s head, dips to kiss her once again – how many more kisses can she fit in tonight? – and rocks down again, but slowly, intentional, real this time.

Dani plays her part perfectly, moaning as she matches the motion, rolls her hips up and into Jamie.

“We can make noise now,” she says, completely unnecessarily, yet extremely effective at nudging Jamie’s movements a bit faster.

“That’s right. And we can make time now,” Jamie assures her, a whisper at Dani’s ear, a promise, a prayer that seems at last to complete the exorcism of that particular ghost of sleepovers past. Because Dani doesn’t speak now, but slides her hands up Jamie’s waist, under her shirt to palm her breasts, sending whimpers of pleasure tumbling out of Jamie’s mouth as she’s riding Dani, making Dani in turn buck and whine for more contact.

When, a few minutes later, Dani – ever impatient – lifts her hips to take off her pajamas (Jamie feels a particular thrill knowing the pants she’s peeling off and kicking to the floor at the end of the bed are, in fact, her own), Jamie can’t help but oblige, settles back down the length of Dani’s body and lets her fingers chart a course to Dani’s center as she tugs her own shirt up to expose Dani’s breasts, drags a tongue over and around a nipple as she dips a fingertip into wet heat.

Maybe tomorrow, she thinks, I’ll show her how good it can be to wait. Maybe tomorrow I’ll tease. Because for now, they get tomorrow.

Tonight is all about what Dani wants, when she wants it: Deep, slow strokes; Jamie’s kisses landing lower, breasts to belly, hips to thighs. The blankets thrown back, heels digging in as Jamie flicks her clit with a nimble tongue, free arm thrown over Dani’s thigh to keep her in place. Shouting Jamie’s name like a mantra – fuck, fuck, Jamie, Jamie, yes, Jamie, yes, oh! – as Jamie pushes and pulls and licks the long-built tension from Dani bodily until it all releases around Jamie’s hand, onto Jamie’s chest and Jamie’s tongue and Jamie’s sheets. Holding Jamie after while the tremors course through her body, kissing Jamie breathless again as she moves to switch their positions, eager, ever eager to give Jamie even half as much pleasure and joy as Jamie gives her.

Which, she does. Twice.

When they finally sleep again, salty-skinned and spent, Jamie thinks she can make out the first tinges of dawn in the crack of her curtains, and she mourns the passage of the hours, however well-used.

Chapter Text

The most unwelcome sound in the world, Jamie thinks, must be two mismatched phone alarms blaring from opposite sides of the room at 7:30 am. Her face is already formed into a scowl before her eyes open, but when they do, they land on a cloud of mussed honey-colored hair, and as Jamie’s brain starts to wake up properly, in stages, she remembers. Remembers that there’s someone else in bed with her, and that’s why there are two alarms rather than one assaulting her – not the most important thing. Remembers that the person is Dani, and remembers the sleepy, sensuous feel of Dani’s hands on her in the dark, what seems now like both a dream and like the only real thing she’s ever known – still not the most important thing.

Remembers then, melting into a soft smile, the most important thing – that under the snow-fuzzed glow of a streetlight, she and Dani had finally laid the last of their cards down, admitted to themselves and each other what was taking shape around them, the beauty and the impossibility of it. Had agreed to try, together, see where it took them.

One day at a time, but properly. A proposition and a promise, its form as yet unclear but the reasons behind it solid and radiant.

Dani’s going through a similar trajectory, it seems, her face screwing into a confused, grumpy scrunch, then smoothing out as she realizes whose room she’s in, whose body is next to her. After one sweet moment of stupid-happy smiling back at Dani’s face, Jamie rolls to silence her phone while Dani does the same on the other side of the bed.

With the chiming and beeping gone, Jamie can finally say, “Morning, Merry Christmas,” grinning as she glances up at Dani’s sex- and sleep-rumpled blonde halo, the skin of her bare shoulders, the lightest traces of smoky shadow left around sleepy blue eyes.

“Hi,” Dani answers back softly, cheeks pink with slumber and, judging from the way Dani’s also looking Jamie up and down, the thrill of where and how she’s woken up.  

“Hi back. How’d ya sleep?”

“Mmmmm, pretty well. Not enough. Not sorry though,” Dani’s eyebrows quirk up, and her body is beginning to lean toward Jamie’s now, magnetic. Jamie does nothing to resist the pull, rolls over and into Dani’s soft, gentle kiss, a quick, nearly-chaste good morning kiss that feels far more intimate than it ought to.

“Merry Christmas. Though, I am sorry I have to go back home for it,” Dani pouts, leaning back.

“Not for long. Just till the afternoon. I mean,” Jamie hedges, “if that’s still what you want.”

“S’all I want,” Dani assures her, and Jamie feels a thrill of dizziness, a flutter deep behind her ribs that quickly solidifies into determination to get there – the afternoon – as soon as humanly possible.

“Right, then, let’s make it happen.” Jamie rolls over and out of bed, motivated. “First things first. Tea?”

“Strongest you’ve got, please.”

Jamie pulls on a t-shirt and shuffles to the kitchen, her muscles working from memory in the semi-darkness to fill the kettle, switch it on, fetch two mugs and a box of Tetley’s English Breakfast from the cabinet just above the sink. She has to go to the grocery store clear across town to find the brand, but it’s worth it to preserve just a bit of her pride as a Brit living in middle America.

This, her first-thing-in-the-morning tea ritual, is as near a devotional as Jamie has in her life. Each step is performed with efficiency and yet with reverence, and movements as much as the caffeine waking her body and making space for her brain to stretch, stir, think.

As she pours in the first round of boiling water, heating the cold ceramic of the mugs, she lets her mind caress back over Dani’s middle-of-the-night initiation, bites her lip and raps her knuckles on the counter to contain the remembered pleasure.

As she tosses that water down the sink, pokes tea bags into mugs now radiating held heat and tips in the water that will become the brew, she wonders at how quickly her life has changed, the beginning of the week a sleety slog, then an encounter that’s led to this morning, waking up next to Dani Clayton in the least platonic way imaginable.

As she waits for the tea to steep, swirling each bag idly, she imagines, with not a small amount of excitement, what they’ll do with all the hours they’re going to have soon: the afternoon, the night, the whole next day. She won’t think about after that until she’s had some tea.

She adds a drop of milk to hers, a splash to Dani’s, and stops to ponder how Dani likes her tea as she does most beverages: entirely too sweet for Jamie’s taste. She considers delivering it as is, as it ought to be, but decides that now is not the time to be a dick about hot drinks; she wants Dani feeling awake and happy and able to make it through this last hurdle with Karen so that they can properly have their time. So she bites her tongue and adds one – no, better make it two – spoonfuls of sugar to one of the cups.

-

There is something truly delightful, she thinks, in the carrying of two steaming mugs instead of one back to the bedroom, about knowing that there’s someone tucked up under the covers waiting to receive one of them. There’s something joyful in knowing that the person waiting is Dani. And there’s something bloody heavenly in the way, when Dani reaches forward eagerly to take her cup and the sheet falls down off her shoulders, she doesn’t replace it, but sits up straight, unselfconsciously bare breasted, humming pleasure into her cup of overly-sweet tea.

Once Jamie has sat herself on the edge of the bed and had enough sips herself to stave off fainting from pure pleasure, she intends to guide them through the next stage of the morning – again, the plan being, the sooner to family time, the sooner back here to bed. Dani has other ideas, though, which are becoming increasingly clear as she leans much further across Jamie than is strictly required to place her mug on the bedside table, positioning herself so that the side of her naked body is pressed into Jamie’s front, the cotton of Jamie’s shirt the only barrier. From there, she only has to turn her head slightly to catch Jamie’s lips in a slow, languid kiss, barely has to move at all to slide her hands, hot still from holding her tea, up one of Jamie’s bare thighs and around to her back, pressing her closer.

“Mmmm,” Jamie is moaning into the kiss before she realizes it, but can’t be bothered to be embarrassed – Dani’s forwardness, her unrelentless pursuit of what she wants, now that she knows and is owning what that is, is breaking down Jamie’s own carefully-constructed barriers against showing too much too fast. Jamie brings her free hand up and into that delightfully tangled blonde hair, pulls Dani in as she teases her tongue into Dani’s mouth, eliciting a similar groan.

Dani takes the mug right out of Jamie’s hands, breaks the kiss briefly to deposit it safely out of the way, and returns to pull Jamie up, onto the bed and into her lap, gasping audibly when the straddle Jamie necessarily lands in exposes her lack of any clothing other than her shirt.

“Fuck, Jamie,” Dani says, like she’s not sitting there stark naked, a flush spreading across the creamy skin of her chest. She starts working the hem of Jamie’s shirt upward and over messy curls then wraps both hands firmly around Jamie’s ribcage, hauls her bodily closer, returns to her work of kissing Jamie senseless.

Jamie knows they can’t keep this up for long, not if they want to get out the door at all this morning, but can’t make herself pull away until Dani leans back of her own accord, breathing hard and looking at Jamie like she’s deciding whether to push her down backward or figure out the mechanics of fucking her just like this.

Jamie needs to act fast. She grabs Dani’s hands in her own, stops them going anywhere more fun.

“Pause. Much as I hate it, we’ve got to get going. But baby, we will absolutely get back to this as soon as—” Jamie catches herself. Winces, “Sorry.”

Dani cocks her head to one side, confused. “I assume you’re apologizing for kicking me out of your bed? Or…why?”

“Called you baby,” Jamie says. “When you asked me – told me – to stop.”

“I did?” Dani seems baffled. “When?”

“Last night, when you were…upset. When I picked you up.” Jamie scratches at the back of her head, not really wanting to have this conversation, or be doing anything except what they were just about to, had she not opened her goddamned logical, responsible mouth.

“Oh,” Dani nods, “Uh huh, I think I remember now. Did I say it was because…” and here she looks askance, embarrassed, “I don’t deserve it?”

“Yeah, might have,” Jamie says softly. “Isn’t true, of course, but. Want to respect your wishes.”

Dani smiles at her, tender. “I…don’t really feel that way, not now, anyway. I had just been, well, you know where I was last night…mentally.” Dani makes a yikes face. She runs her palms up and down Jamie’s thighs. A tiny bit nervous, vulnerable, Jamie thinks, but nothing serious.

 “That was before we talked and decided, um, that we could, um.” Ah, Jamie thinks, she’s nervous because of that – the next frontier, the doors they’d opened up but not fully explored yet.

“Take one day at a time beyond Sunday?” she suggests.

“Yeah,” Dani lets out a tense breath, nods, grateful for the assist, “so I was still having…weird feelings about pretending things were simpler than they are. For using you.”

“No,” Jamie says simply, but she knows what Dani means; she’d had similar thoughts, had said as much last night.

“Well, it felt like I was using you. Or, like it wasn’t fair for me to be getting all these things I’ve wanted without, I don’t know, acknowledging how much I wanted them, and how important you are.” She smiles, a bit self-conscious, Jamie thinks, at the admission. Jamie chuckles.

“You’re laughing at me? Right now?!” Dani frowns theatrically.

“You’re just not saying anything I haven’t thought myself this week,” Jamie explains with a shrug. “When I picked you up last night, right up until you told me…everything…my better self was yelling at…my regular self that I was there to be a good friend to you, nothing more. So, I get it. This is complicated. But you’re not – weren’t – being unfair.”

Dani nods, then:

“Good friend, huh?” Dani smirks at her, runs one finger along the inside of Jamie’s thigh up to where the edge of her underwear would be, if she were wearing any. “Really good friend, feels like.”

“Exactly,” Jamie says, even as her breath and her body jump at the tease. “And this is so, so far beyond that. Obviously.” She reaches up, tucks a piece of stray hair behind Dani’s ear, finds that somehow just as intimate and erotic as what Dani’s doing to her.

“So, I guess what I’m saying,” Dani, apparently determined to clear this up in the most tantalizing way possible, “is you can call me anything you damn well please” –  a self-satisfied smile, like she knows that there’s no way Jamie will turn down what she’s about to offer –  “including but not limited to babe and baby, because, well, I would like to be. Yours.”

Jamie feels a smile of disbelief at her own wild luck spread across her face, dawning right in time with a matching one on Dani’s that she drinks in with bright eyes.

“Yeah?” She can’t make herself say much more, so hard is her heart pounding, so high are her hopes and unrestrained her joy.

“Yes. Please.” Dani confirms through lowered eyelashes, reaching up again to take Jamie’s face in her hands, pull her down so that their bodies are pressed into each other clumsily, skin on flushed skin. But there’s nothing clumsy in the way her mouth finds Jamie’s, seeks out her lower lip, sucks it between her own for a long moment. Nothing clumsy at all in the way she moves from there to Jamie’s earlobe, a nip, a hot flick of tongue. Nothing even remotely clumsy in the way she then pulls back, takes a deep, steadying breath, squares her shoulders and says, “All right, then, let’s get this show on the road,” giving Jamie no choice but to shove the heat that’s just been building right back down for later with a stunned, “Okay, babe.”  

-

The change Jamie witnesses over the next few minutes, she thinks, is nothing short of transformative. Dani, suddenly businesslike, is bustling around the room gathering up various articles of clothing, a ponytail holder, her phone. Her jaw is set in a determined square, lips turned up just enough at the corners to say she’s not angry, just on a mission.

Jamie’s barely tugged on some pajama pants and yanked a beanie down over her fantastically tangled hair before Dani is fully assembled: dressed (back in Jamie’s sweats rather than her party dress, which does as much as anything to tamp the potential walk of shame vibe), teeth brushed, the remaining traces of last night’s makeup scrubbed off. Her hair is captured in a fairly respectable-looking French braid, the creation of which had rendered Jamie, still moving slowly through a haze of arousal despite being the one who’d gotten them out of bed, standing riveted, her toothbrush limp in one hand, staring at Dani’s fingers deftly weaving and tucking the strands into place.

“Ready?” Dani looks over her shoulder, breaking Jamie’s daze, gestures with her head for her to get going. On the short ride from Jamie’s place to the Clayton family home, Dani looks straight ahead, shoulders a bit stiff, a couple inches between her ramrod straight back and the truck’s leather seat.

Jamie can see, in Dani’s quick pivot from languorous morning kisses to no-nonsense, buttoned-up commuter, the effect of years of temptations quelled before they can even truly arise. A well-worn groove running between desire and discipline.

When Jamie pulls to a stop in front of the two-story white clapboard house in which she spent approximately a third of her time back in high school, she gives Dani a bracing look, reaches across the bench seat and squeezes Dani’s arm one time.

“I’ll be back around one. Text you when I’m on my way.” She pauses for a beat, not sure about the next part, but adds it anyway: “Tell your mom I said Merry Christmas, if…if you feel like it.”

Dani’s facade falters for just a moment, the set of her mouth wavering, and her eyes dart to the dashboard clock: 8:42 am.

“Four hours,” she says like a promise. “Back with you in four hours,” like it’s forever. It is. Then she buckles down once again and replies, “Same to your family. Please. I…I missed them, too,” and then she’s out the door and striding into the house, and Jamie is on her way.

-

Now that Mikey’s a teenager who’d rather sleep in than go bounding downstairs to see what Santa’s brought, the Wilson-Taylor Christmas morning doesn’t begin until at least 10. Jamie uses the time to return home, where she makes a second cup of tea and totes it with her into a scalding hot shower. After she’s dressed – clean dark jeans and a red buffalo check flannel, festive – she putters around the house, tidying up, preparing the space for Dani – oddly for the first time, since she hadn’t planned on bringing her back here either of the two times she’d already done so.

Jamie’s home is rarely truly messy, but neither is it ever immaculate. No reason, she figures, to put things away when I’m going to need them again tomorrow, and I’m the only one here.  But she finds an occasional clearing-up soothing, and today is no different; she’s not exactly nervous for later, but her energy is far from calm at the prospect of the strangest, what will it be…third? fourth?...date in history.     

She clears her small kitchen table of its regular tenants: a messy stack of seed catalogues, a dogeared Farmer’s Almanac, a host of used teacups and expired post-it notes-to-self. She runs a cloth over the kitchen counters. Glances in the fridge and frowns. While there are enough odds and ends there (and, if she’s honest, in the freezer, from which most of her sustenance emerges, heat-and-eat) to feed herself, it’s not much for hosting a guest. Possibly a grocery run is in order.

To make up for this deficit, she changes the sheets on her bed to her favorite navy set, fluffs the pillows, smirking as the thinks to herself, Ought to’ve done this first, as we’re gonna spend a far sight more time here than at the bloody kitchen table. As an afterthought, she temporarily relocates her potted Jasmine from its preferred sunny spot in the kitchen window to a bedside table, knowing that by the time she’s back the cloud of small white blooms will have filled the room with a light, sensual-sweet scent.

Once the place is as near shipshape as it’s going to get, she once again sets off.

-

Just like every Christmas Jamie cares to remember, Amy has made cinnamon rolls, Jim has donned a fluffy Santa hat, the tree and a low fire are lit. Just like every year, her parents give her thoughtful, useful gifts – several new pairs of thick wool socks, a beanie identical to the one she’s wearing but without the tear along the logo tag, a tin of tea fancier than she’d buy herself.

“Here, sis, open mine,” Mikey says, tossing her a small square box from his place on the couch. It’s a mug emblazoned with several goofy grinning succulents and the words POT HEAD, which makes Jamie laugh and roll her eyes and Amy swat at him with a chastising “Mikey! Your sister runs a business, she can’t have that sitting around!”

She grins when her dad passes her a package of the unmistakable size and shape of a record: Jim loves sharing his musical tastes with his children, and Jamie is far and away the more receptive of the two, Mikey having made his disdain for anything other than the current Top 40 crystal clear. She rips off the bright paper, reads the title aloud: Best of Blondie.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard of her – ”

“Them,” Jim corrects, “a group.”

She flips the record, scans the song list.

“Thanks, Dad, can’t wait to put this on later. Definitely know some of these from the oldies station.”

“Ouch!” Jim stabs an imaginary knife into his heart, twists the handle. “The OLDIES station, behold, music from the crypt!” Amid laughter, he tells her, “They were a favorite of mine in college. Good stuff, all of it. And your mom, she had this shirt from one of their concerts, and she’d cut the sleeves short, it was hot, lemme tell ya – ”

He’s interrupted by Jamie shouting Dad! Amy hissing Jim! Mikey covering his ears Lalalalalalala. Yes, everything is just like it always is.

After presents are opened, they turn to a leisurely lunch, Jim bringing out a spread of sandwiches and offering around cider.

“Are we on for our annual Scrabble after this, kids?”

“Ah, Dad, I’m sorry, I actually have to go soon,” Jamie says, and she is sorry to leave, knows she’ll need to make all the absence up to her family in the coming weeks.

“Is everything OK, sweetheart?” Amy asks. “You’ve been…awfully busy this week, it seems.”

“Oh, uh, yeah, just – I have someone coming over later.” Her entire family stills, stares, waits for more details that she now has no choice but to give. “Dani, it’s Dani. She’s…it’s been hard on her, with, um, her fiancé, and her mom’s been, you know.” This is perhaps the least articulate Jamie’s ever been, but thankfully Amy picks up the thread, ties it together with Jamie’s leaving earlier the previous night.

“That Karen is a piece of work, always has been. It’s wonderful that you’re able to be there for Dani again, darling.” She gives Jamie a glance over a bite of sandwich, inviting but not pushing her to say more.

Jamie wants to say more. She wants to ask her parents if they’d ever had any idea that beneath her friendship with Dani was the potential for more. Wants to ask if they ever talked in low voices about how much time their very out daughter was spending with her very pretty, very smart, very kind best friend. Wants to, but feels like it’s not quite the time, and besides, Dani’s going to be waiting soon. So she excuses herself, promises a makeup game night soon, and heads to the door.

Amy catches her on her way out on the pretense of sending her home with extra lemon bars.

“Love, if you ever want to talk, you know I’m here. In case everything isn’t actually all okay, with Dani or anything else. Anything at all.”

“I know, Mom. And I’ll definitely tell you about this, when I have it all figured out,” Jamie answers, because she will, when she can, when she has the mental capacity and she’s not watching the clock winding down a limited allotment of hours.

“Or any time before you have it all figured out,” Amy adds, constantly reminding her daughter, even now, that she doesn’t have to do this on her own.

Jamie sighs and leans harder than usual into her mom’s final hug goodbye, wondering just how much support she’s setting herself up to need, and knowing that however much it is, whatever’s coming, it’s going to be worth it.  

-

When Jamie pulls up in front of Karen’s house, Dani is once again ready and waiting for her outside. This time, though, couldn’t be more different than the night before: for one, she’s wearing seasonally appropriate clothing. She’s also surrounded by a small island of bags – two suitcases of a matching cranberry, a black backpack, and several plastic grocery bags – and most importantly, is practically bouncing up and down with excitement.

“Dani, what’s all this?” Jamie asks as she steps down from the truck to help Dani wither her luggage.

“I’m not exactly a light packer,” Dani starts, apologetic.

“No, babe, not the suitcases, though…there are…several,” no reason denying it, though it’s not surprising given the sheer number of outfit changes Jamie has witnessed already. “These – ” she indicates the grocery bags.

“Oh!” Dani says brightly, “I buzzed out to the store a few minutes ago, just got back actually. Figured since I was crashing your house for the next couple days, the least I could do would be to make you dinner tonight?”

Jamie melts.

“That’s grand actually, because I was going to say we need to make a stop on the way back for food,” she admits.

“Fantastic. I got stuff for lasagna, and a salad, and some cookies, and a lot of wine?” Dani’s tone shifts up, she’s looking hopefully at Jamie with her offering, as if anything she’d do could disappoint Jamie.

“That sounds perfect. You’re amazing,” Jamie says, beaming at her, and hefts the bags, large and small, into the bed of the truck before joining Dani in the toasty cab.

“How did Karen take it when you said you wouldn’t be back?” Jamie asks, running her hand over Dani’s thigh over her grey heathered leggings in lieu of a kiss right here in front of the house.

“Oh, she’s pissed,” Dani answers, “but honestly, she shouldn’t be. Won’t actually be for long when she realizes she doesn’t have to make two dinners, be woken up by my ‘banging around the kitchen’ in the morning, drive me to the airport…”

Jamie sighs as Dani lists off the basic functions of being the mother of an adult child home to visit that Karen will be happy to be rid of, gives Dani a sympathetic look. But Dani doesn’t appear to need it; Jamie can tell she’s ready to move on from the way she resets her shoulders and face, turns to Jamie with excited, wide, what’s next eyes.

Fine with Jamie to have that be enough Karen talk for today. She knows that one day, one day soon if they keep moving the direction they seem to be, Dani’s going to have to have a very difficult conversation with Karen, one that she won’t be able to dismiss so easily. But that’s not for today. That’s solidly one day at a time territory, and Jamie is happy to let it be so.

Because the remaining approximately eight minutes of the drive are filled with a rising energy, the shared realization that the first time, there’s nowhere to rush off to, nothing at all planned, just each other, and tonight, and another whole day and night of possibilities ahead. Dani, defenses stowed once again, barely takes her eyes off Jamie – at least, she’s locked on her each time Jamie is able to glance across the cab – and she’s bobbing her head to the pop music on the radio, bouncing both legs up and down like a kid on her way to Disney World. Jamie feels it too, finds herself white-knuckling the steering wheel to force herself to concentrate on what are surely slippery streets rather than the way her heartrate is rising and a dull ache is growing between her thighs.

When they arrive blessedly back in Jamie’s driveway, Dani bounds out of the truck and hitches herself up onto the back tire to haul most of her bags up, out, and to the door herself; much to Jamie’s chagrin, she’s simply too late getting there to be of much help. Feeling a bit like an oaf for her relatively easy load – two lightly-filled plastic grocery bags – Jamie rushes to work the lock and they tumble inside.

No sooner has she placed her keys on the entryway table than she feels herself shoved back against the door, Dani’s hands – somehow already empty of all she was carrying – gripping the collar of her coat, Dani’s hips pinning her, Dani’s mouth covering hers with searing, desperate, overdue kisses. Jamie’s hands fly to grab anywhere on Dani that she can: holding her in close through the down of her coat, running her hands up and down her back, dipping them low to cup and squeeze her ass and palm her thighs, her lower half being the least layered-up and thus the most accessible to needy hands.

Dani’s working her own hands quickly into Jamie’s jacket, ripping the zipper down and pushing the heavy canvas off her shoulders, moving on swiftly to palming up and under Jamie’s flannel shirt. Jamie’s vaguely aware she might lose a button or two, and the idea frankly thrills her, urges her own fingers to work faster at removing Dani’s coat, yanking up the bottom of the sweatshirt she finds beneath it.  

Once they’ve each gotten the other down to a bra, then in a flash to nothing at all on top, Dani starts fumbling with Jamie’s belt, all the while thrusting her tongue into Jamie’s mouth, panting between strokes. Jamie goes to help her with the buckle –anything to get Dani’s hands where they most want to be – when Dani stops abruptly, looks over her shoulder toward the hallway.

“Bedroom?” is all Dani has to say to make Jamie’s stomach drop to her feet. She nods, no words making themselves available for the moment, and follows Dani as she fairly marches off toward the hall. When Dani turns on a dime, reverses, she almost knocks Jamie over, so fast is she moving –

“Groceries!” Dani shouts, and shuttles the plastic bags into the kitchen and hurls them, whole and unpacked, into the fridge, slams the door to keep them put. Jamie’s head is spinning, so it’s helpful when, as she passes Jamie once again on her course to their destination, Dani grabs her by the hand and drags her down the hallway.

Being caught in Dani’s whirlwind isn’t a new experience for Jamie, not exactly – there’d been many projects, causes, and team events that Jamie Taylor wouldn’t’ve touched with a ten-foot pole if her best friend hadn’t…not so much wrangled her into joining as just…swept her along. And this, what’s happening to Jamie now, is that, but with the unspeakably amazing added bonus that Dani’s goal here isn’t planning the best junior prom in the history of the school, but rather, giving Jamie as much pleasure as she can physically manage.  

So while Jamie’s not used to relinquishing control when it comes to sex, especially not with someone she’s slept with only a handful of times, it feels natural, it feels like relief, actually, feels like medicine to let Dani haul her into her own room, push her down onto her own bed, whip off her jeans and socks and – pause to admire the black boxer briefs that she’d definitely selected for this very reason – then tug those down and chuck them clear across the room, too.

When Dani climbs on top of Jamie, she doesn’t settle firmly on her lap or lie along her side like Jamie expects, but rather holds herself up on hands and knees, using the mobility to float over and across Jamie’s body. She drops open-mouthed kisses around hardened nipples, sucks on the soft undersides of her breasts just hard enough for Jamie to feel an edge of teeth press into her flesh. She licks along the ridge of one rib as Jamie shudders, shivers radiating in all directions, their epicenter wherever Dani is touching most.

By the time she realizes that Dani is in fact inching her way lower, is right now dragging her mouth across the plane of Jamie’s abdomen while she settles back and down onto her thighs, Jamie fears she’s going to pass out. She makes herself take two intentional, deeper breaths, blinks hard at the ceiling, before she lets herself lift her head and watch Dani position herself between her legs, sliding her arms under Jamie’s legs, all the while placing hot kisses on Jamie’s hipbones letting her breath ghost along the tops of her thighs as she looks up at Jamie.

“Fuck, Dani, are you sure, because you don’t have to,” she means it to her core, will pivot if she needs to, but her body has opinions on the matter, is screaming for Dani not to stop.

“Jamie. Of course I’m sure. Been thinking about this all day,” Dani says matter-of-factly, adds a raised eyebrow that asks, Is there anything about this situation that makes you think I’m not in charge? Jamie’s head falls back on the mattress in pure bliss, and Dani hasn’t even touched her yet where she wants it most.

In fact, Dani’s movements have slowed, likely, Jamie assumes, due to the fact that this is the first time she’ll have performed this particular act. Slowed, but not stopped. Even now, as Jamie’s letting the fact of what’s happening wash over her, that she’s going to be the first woman Dani Clayton goes down on – the only one, a small but fierce voice says from stage left in her head – the thought making her still dizzier than she was before, Dani is roaming her eyes over Jamie’s center as she strokes the insides of her thighs with both thumbs, tantalizing. It takes all the self-control Jamie has not to shift her hips higher, or give a little verbal encouragement – no, Dani deserves to take her time. Even if Jamie might die waiting here.

Finally, she feels Dani’s breath, just the warm air from parted lips, and then, thank fuck, those perfect lips themselves brush against her, slipping across wet skin, a taste, then they’re gone again.

“Wow,” Dani breathes the word, reverent, eyes unmoving from the spot between Jamie’s legs that is vibrating with that one tentative kiss, aching for more. Thankfully, the break is brief, and Dani returns her mouth, only just slightly more assertively this time, licking a line from Jamie’s core up to just below her clit.

“Fuuuuuck, baby,” Jamie can’t help but let something out, and the tiny releases of pent-up pressure she’s getting are almost as torturous as not being touched at all. Dani seems spurred on by the reaction, licks again, harder, tilts her head to one side to explore a broader range of Jamie, fingers spreading her open, and her hair falls down onto Jamie’s thigh, tickling. Jamie reaches down to brush it away, can’t take another tease, then carefully allows her hand to drift to the back of Dani’s head, not pushing, not even guiding, but resting there, holding her like the precious being she is. Dani hums into the touch, and the hum travels down her tongue, vibrates into Jamie, makes her groan for more.

Again, the sound seems to encourage Dani, and Jamie knows they’re driving each other higher now, each moan calling forth a louder, lower one from the other, each hitched breath making the other pant harder. Dani brings her mouth up to concentrate on Jamie’s clit now, and she’s being so careful, so gentle, tonguing around, near, but never directly onto the sensitive spot. Jamie can feel how hard she is, her clit straining for more contact even as more would be too much, would push her over too fast, but she can’t help but roll her hips up and into Dani, a small movement, but one that sets enough of a rhythm to satisfy for now.

She feels Dani start to move with her, and she props herself up on elbows to afford a better view. And oh, what a view it is. Dani’s head is bobbing lightly in time with Jamie’s rocking, her eyes closed in concentration, giving Jamie everything. The muscles in Dani’s naked shoulders are working to hold her body where it needs to be, and as she’s still positioned on her knees, legs tucked underneath her, Jamie can see the delicate line of her spine all the way until it disappears into her leggings – how are those still on? – and the curve of her hips and ass begging for more of Jamie’s hands.

Jamie lets her body fall back onto the bed, too aroused and shaky to stay in place, and the thought of touching more of Dani pushes her to search out Dani’s hand from its position alongside her on the bedspread, grab at it and gasp out, “Inside too? Please? Dani, I want you to fuck me.”

An mmmph of pleasurable surprise engulfs her clit, and Dani moves, adjusts, complies.  Presses two fingertips once, then slides in. Jamie’s moan is immediate and raw.

“Yes, baby, like that, don’t stop” she babbles, unnecessarily, because it’s clear that Dani is relishing this, is working her hand deep inside Jamie even as she’s still pressing her tongue around Jamie’s clit. Is relishing it so much, in fact, that she adds a third finger, the pause for the shift nearly imperceptible, the addition welcome as it fills Jamie in a way she craves and rarely receives, makes her widen the spread of her legs to let all of Dani in.

The combination is mind-blowingly good, but it’s also intense, and it sends Jamie hurtling toward the edge of her pleasure. She’s close, can’t stop the climb now, wouldn’t want to; does instead the thing she knows will tip her over faster, because she’s ready, needs it now: she gives herself permission to fully loose the floodgates of sound that she’s been rationing out, the cries and moans and words, especially the words, knowing each repetition is a bound toward the brink.

“Dani, ah, fuck, that’s so good, baby,” eyes screwing shut.

“Yes, fuck, baby, ah, ah, yeah, you’re gonna make me come,” legs tense, shaking, heels dug into the mattress, until finally –

“I’m gonna come, I’m gonna, fuck baby, fuck I’m coming,” as the tension breaks, her head driving back and down, a moan ripping through the final words as she crashes and crashes. Crashes until she’s lying limp, blurry-minded from the strongest, hardest orgasm she can remember.

When she can take a solid breath and remembers to open her eyes again, she looks down her own still-quivering body to where Dani lies, cheek against Jamie’s thigh, panting and staring up at Jamie’s face.

“Dani, oh my god, c’mere,” she reaches down, beckons for Dani to crawl into her arms, hold her through the aftershocks. Dani settles against her body, warm and heavy, heaven.

“Mmmm, that was so good,” Dani mumbles as if to herself.  

“Hey, that’s my line,” Jamie grins.

“Yeah? I did it right?” Dani bites her lip, blue eyes wide and searching.

“’Bout as damn right as it’s ever been done, I reckon,” Jamie says, “but you knew that.” She gasps. “Dani! Did you go home and study this morning?”

“I did not!” Dani huffs, thwacks Jamie on the shoulder, mouth falling into a wide expression of disbelief at Jamie’s irreverence.

“Are you sure, because that was….overachievement. Really, good work. Model student, you are.”

As Jamie is teasing Dani verbally, she’s also starting to touch, tease, tickle across her skin – fingers drifting up her arms, down between her breasts, across her collarbone. It must feel maddening, Jamie knows, isn’t surprised in the least when Dani gives an insistent little rock against her thigh, which Jamie interprets as, if you’re recovered enough to tease, you’re recovered enough to fuck me.

Jamie’s not quite done driving her up, though; she reaches down for Dani’s hand, still sticky, draws Dani’s forefinger into her mouth, sucks, tasting herself. Dani whines, closes her eyes for a long moment, as Jamie moves to the second, the third finger, stroking each one slowly down her tongue and teeth, pausing to let her lips circle each fingertip before releasing it. This leaves Dani panting and craning her face up, searching for Jamie’s lips, which find hers, meet them in a hot, heavy kiss as Dani tangles her licked-clean hand into Jamie’s hair roughly, holding her in close so that when she speaks, her voice husky, she says the words directly into Jamie’s mouth:

“Baby, please. Need you.”

Still grinning, still flying from what that same hand and mouth have just done to her, Jamie acquiesces, flips their positions so that she’s lying half on top of Dani, slides a thigh between legs helpfully spread, nudges upward. Dani growls and bucks in response, and yes, she’s very ready, Jamie can feel the heat through the fabric of her leggings. Jamie can’t remember when she’s had this much fun – she actually laughs aloud as she rucks Dani’s waistband down, helps her struggle out of the tight pants, the soaked underwear. Smiles into Dani’s neck before she licks a long line up to her ear while drifting her fingers along swollen, ready skin.

Jamie isn’t surprised at how wet she finds Dani; that’s to be expected from the long leadup. She is surprised, though, when she slides one finger in, at how taut Dani is already, muscles firm and straining so that she immediately scraps her plans to add a second, slows her movements a bit.

“Dani, fuck, you’re tight.”

“Got – mmm – close – mmm – licking you,” Dani purrs out in time with Jamie’s strokes. She’s rocking down hard on that one finger, chasing desperately already with everything she has. Jamie wants to give her what she wants, but also wants to maybe show her something new. So, Jamie takes a chance.

“Baby, take your time. I’m not going anywhere.” She feels Dani’s body loosen a bit at the words, her stomach softening, her legs relaxing from their ready-steady-go race position.

“Yeah?” unsure.

“Yeah,” absolutely sure.

“Mmmm, ‘kay, I’ll try, but fuck Jamie, that’s so good,” Dani is smiling easily now, her movements becoming more fluid, less frantic.  

“Good, baby, enjoy it,” Jamie catches Dani’s mouth in a slow kiss, steadying, adds, “Let me watch you enjoy it.” She pushes in deep and stills her thrusts, instead stroking inside with tiny curls of her fingertip, increasing the pressure until she makes Dani writhe, makes high noises rise and tumble out of Dani’s throat.

“Oh, god – ” Dani chokes out.

“Okay?”

“Yeah, just, fuck, so close, I – ”

“Breathe.” Jamie says, low and steady, taking a deep, long breath in herself as a model. “Breathe, baby.”

Again, Dani complies, and again, her body calms a bit, her stained cries melting into hums of pleasure on long exhales.

“I fucking love watching you,” Jamie says, lips bumping against the shell of Dani’s ear. “So damn sexy.”

Dani’s wide smile – the same one she’d give if Jamie’d just made a particularly good joke, or brought her a red velvet cupcake, should be so out of place here, doing this, yet isn’t, is in fact perfect – cracks something open in Jamie’s chest that she’s not totally ready to examine just yet. She concentrates instead on meeting that smile with a wanton lick into Dani’s mouth, on tugging lightly on Dani’s hair with her free hand, watching her face to confirm that the sensation is a welcome one. (Arched eyebrows and a sharp gasp followed by a murmur of pleasure; check.)

Over and over Jamie lets Dani build, then coaxes her from the crest. She changes up her movements – a slow twist inside, a flicker, short strokes; mouth on a nipple, mouth on a shoulder, mouth on the earlobe that seems to be a particular favorite – so that nothing lasts long enough to escalate all the way.

She loses track of the times Dani moans, Ohhh, so good, Jamie, fuck, loses track of how many single swipes she makes with her thumb across Dani’s clit, never more than a moment of contact, just enough to quell the worst of the ache. When finally, Dani, flushed and glistening, looks at her with pleading eyes, can barely speak between heavy, keening breaths, Jamie tells her,

“Whenever you’re ready, babe, I want to watch you come.”

“Oh yeah, fuck, please, Jamie, please,” Dani’s begging for something Jamie’s dying to give her sends electricity down into Jamie’s groin. Grinning as she works her hand harder, finally giving Dani the intensity and speed she’s wanted, Jamie angles her hand so that her palm brushes up and into Dani’s clit with each stroke. The effect of delivering this attention, so long denied, is immediate and strong – Dani’s shaking, every muscle in her body tense and focused on a singular goal.

“Fuck, baby! Fuck! Jamie! Jamie! Jamie! Fuck!” Dani isn’t moaning so much as shouting, screaming the words, raw and animal, and Jamie finds herself growling with each syllable right along with her until there aren’t words anymore, just sounds, and Jamie is holding her hand in place as Dani falls all the way apart, the quaking so hard that she lifts her head and shoulders off the bed only to let them collapse backward with the next wave. She rolls her body into Jamie’s palm a dozen more times, and Jamie stays, absorbs it all while drinking in the full range of faces Dani makes as she’s coming.

Curled around Dani under the sheets a few minutes later, arms wrapped around her body to contain her energy, keep her warm as sweat cools on bare skin, Jamie asks, “Was that okay?”

“Ohhh, yeah, it was…it was amazing, actually. Different.” There’s something in Dani’s voice that says there’s more there.

“Different, how?” Jamie wants to say different, good? but makes herself keep the question neutral.

“Mmmm, guess I’m not used to – ” Dani stops herself short, “Never mind. We don’t need to talk about that.”

“We can talk about anything you want,” Jamie assures her. “I’m not scared.”

“I know, it’s just…feels wrong, ya know, talking about someone else.”

“You’re not talking about someone else; you’re talking about you,” Jamie argues gently. “And I want to know what you like, what you want.”

Dani sighs, concedes.

“I’m not used to, um, knowing that I’m going to get to…orgasm.” Jamie thinks that Dani’s delicacy with language in this moment is hilarious given what’s come out of her mouth ten minutes ago, but maintains focus. “So I kind of usually try and get there as fast as possible?”

Jamie smiles, understanding. “Promise that won’t be a problem here,” she says simply.

“So, yeah, that was really intense, and I kind of fucking loved it.” Dani smiles up at Jamie with wonder, and Jamie has never felt happier.

Or sleepier. The late night, the interrupted sleep, the orgasms are combining to make both their eyelids droop, and they’re both nearly asleep when Dani pipes up, “No, no, don’t wanna sleep too long – need an alarm.”

Jamie reluctantly wills herself up and out of bed – her desire to make the most of their time together the only thing that could possibly outstrip her need to stay glued to Dani – to find her phone, abandoned in the entryway amid a scattering of suitcases and articles of clothing, scampers back into bed as fast as she can.

“Time is it?” Dani asks, brows knitting in worry.

“Only just three now,” Jamie reports, triumphant, like she’s found more time for them just in the knowing of the hour.

“Oh excellent. Nap till 4, then make dinner?” Dani’s words are slurring adorably with sleepiness, and Jamie clicks in the alarm setting then folds herself back where she belongs and is asleep before she can form another thought.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s second wakeup of the day is infinitely more pleasant than the first. When the buzz of the (blessedly singular) alarm emits from her phone, this time placed close by on the bed itself, Dani reaches it easily from her position curled around Jamie’s back. She silences it with a quick flick of her finger, then smacks it away, nuzzling into the nape of Jamie’s neck and trailing her hand across her stomach, up to cup each breast in turn, as if saying hello to all of Jamie as she wakes.

The short nap, in truth, is not enough for Jamie, not enough to make up for how tired and spent and sweet she feels lying here, and yet. It’s too long. Too long spent unconscious, even if she was in fact touching Dani – a lot of fully naked Dani – the entire time, she won’t remember it, doesn’t count, was too long.

So she quells her natural tendency to grouch when awakened, which is markedly easier to do when she’s looking over her shoulder at blue eyes sparkling, mischievous, edges crinkled with a smile. Easier still when Dani’s hands grip her biceps and roll her over, Dani’s breasts brushing along her back, then her side, then pressed against her own as they come face to face.

“Mmmm, ‘s a nice way to wake up,” Jamie murmurs, brushing her nose against Dani’s in greeting.

“Yeah,” Dani trails a hand down Jamie’s side under the sheet, palms her hipbone, holds her close, a solid, safe presence.  

“Whatcha wanna do now?”

“Gotta get cooking.” Dani is about four clicks more awake than Jamie is, she realizes, is vibrating with energy, ready to be out of bed. Damn.

“Already? It’s like, four o’clock. Are we having senior special early dinner?”

“No,” her lips twist into a smirk, and god, but Jamie’s missed Dani’s sassy side all these years. “What I’m making – ”

“You said lasagna, yeah? My favorite.”

“Mmhmm, I remembered,” Dani says as an aside. “It’s…kind of a process. Gonna take a couple hours, maybe longer.”  

“Ah, I see. Best get to it then, haven’t we?” and Jamie’s up, rolling out of their – her, the bed is hers – warm bed, digs in her dresser for fresh sweats. She turns to offer Dani some, but she’s already trotting back through the doorway, ever chipper, having gone to fetch her suitcases, from which she produces wrinkled but soft looking blue joggers. Jamie, watching her pull on a thin white tank top that leaves her nipples clearly and tantalizingly visible, resolves then and there she’ll crank the heat up as high as it needs to be to ensure Dani doesn’t need another layer.

Dressed, if majorly distracted, Jamie follows Dani as she continues on her mission into the kitchen, helps her unpack the bags she retrieves from the refrigerator – everything, including the boxed pasta and canned tomato sauce, now nicely chilled from their hasty deposit earlier.

“Should warn you, I’m not great in the kitchen,” Jamie says, adding, “still.” She chuckles, remembering when she’d tried to bake Dani a cake for her 17th birthday, had even decorated it – badly, but in Dani’s favorite colors at the time, teal and purple, with sparkly sprinkles. She’d carried it proudly into the lunchroom at school that day, a cat with a canary, only to be mortified when Dani could barely make herself eat a mouthful of the underdone, grainy cake, touched when she tried anyway, then ate several spoonfuls of plain frosting – store-bought, and thus edible – and declared loudly that the frosting was her favorite part of cake anyway.

“Duly noted,” Dani replies, “and anyway, I said I’m making you dinner, so you’re off the hook.”

“What should I do with m’self, then? You telling me I can just…relax, while you do all the work?” Jamie quirks an eyebrow up, smirks.

Dani gives as good as she gets, as always: “Telling you you can watch, if you want.” Damn.

So Jamie, after showing Dani where everything is located in her basic, but functional kitchen – Amy won’t let her give up entirely, insists she at least stock the essential tools that an adult’s kitchen requires, even if they sit collecting dust most of the time – hops up to sit on the counter next to the sink while Dani busies herself arranging ingredients along the work surface.

Jamie watches with interest as Dani dices onions, peels the garlic then brings a fist down hard on the flat of a knife to smash the cloves. She works with focus, and practiced skill, but with an air of ease – like Jamie herself, she muses, probably looks when she’s repotting starts at the nursery. The late afternoon light is filtering in through some of those same propagated vines of philodendron looped over the kitchen window, casting a soft, golden glow on Dani’s nap-mussed hair, which she brushes out of her eyes with the back of her hand every couple of minutes. Jamie just sits, entranced by her every move, kicking her heels lightly against the lower cabinet doors.

As the onions and garlic sizzle in the pot, filling the house with a delectable aroma, Dani crumbles in ground beef and Italian sausage, stirs gently.

“Spice rack?” she inquires, and oh, dear, she looks awfully hopeful. Jamie gestures sheepishly at the ragtag lineup of plastic bottles along the back of the stove. “Hm, that’s kind of what I thought,” Dani says, almost to herself. Then, rebound-quick, nodding, “I can make that work.”

She studies along the line, selects three (thankfully doesn’t inquire as to their expiry dates), and shakes in the dried herbs. In a few more fragrant minutes, she pours in tomato sauce and paste, a good shake of salt, a pour of sugar. Jamie marvels at her quiet work: the way that she doesn’t seem to feel the need to measure, the easy confidence that what she’s doing is going to work out, is quite intoxicating, especially to a kitchen disaster like Jamie.

Once the sauce is bubbling away cheerfully, Dani steps away, comes to stand between Jamie’s swinging feet, leans in for a soft, slow kiss that stills her legs, then makes them wrap up and around Dani’s waist, pulling them together.

“What’s next?” Jamie asks. “And can I help? I feel like a prat just sitting here, turns out.” She’s also becoming rapidly turned on by the combination of – well, hell, it is from watching Dani, and the sporadic physical contact, and the intimacy of having someone else moving about her kitchen, looking already at home in Jamie’s space, and not minding the familiarity, in fact, quite the opposite. There’s a lot going on, in any case, and Jamie needs to move.

“Next, we drink some wine,” Dani smiles, reaching for one of the three bottles she’s brought. “And you can help by opening it and pouring me some.”

Jamie grins, grateful for the task and the prospect of a drink, and slides down off the counter, fishes her corkscrew out of a drawer and does as she’s asked, filling two thick-walled stemless glasses a good bit higher than is considered proper with jammy, ruby-red liquid. She hands one to Dani, who raises it with a simple, “Cheers.”

Jamie drinks, and is hit with an array of flavors: fruity and earthy, rich dark chocolate and a hint of tobacco that makes her the tiniest bit nostalgic for her own several years as a smoker, damn that addicting shit.

“Damn, that’s good, what is this?” While she likes wine just fine, she rarely buys a bottle for herself, too often forgets to finish it before it goes to vinegar. Beer, in its single-serve containers, and whiskey that never goes bad are more suited to her lifestyle these days.

“A malbec, my favorite,” Dani answers. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask you what you like, but this one tends to be a crowd pleaser.” She takes another sip herself, looking at Jamie over the brim of her glass, and a tiny hum of pleasure vibrates the glass.

“Well consider me pleased,” Jamie says, licking her own lips in response, the alcohol already warming her cheeks and making her buzz more, not less, than before. Oh well.

“Oh yeah?” Dani steps into her, takes her glass and sets both aside, pulls Jamie into a kiss by her forearms. Jamie can taste a tinge of dark cherry on Dani’s tongue as it teases against her own, and opens her mouth to let her in deeper, flattens a palm on the base of Dani’s back to hold her close.

When Dani pulls back for a moment, bumps her nose against Jamie’s with a wide lucky me smile, Jamie can’t help but return the expression.

“What’s next then?” Jamie asks once again, afraid if she doesn’t get her hands busy shredding cheese or something, she’s at risk of taking Dani right here in the kitchen – not that that would be a bad outcome.

“Next we wait. Sauce has to simmer, at least, oh, 45 minutes. An hour’s even better.” Dani tilts her head to the side, runs her fingers up and down Jamie’s arms, tickling. “So you tell me, what’s next?”

Jamie feels her eyebrows raise in response, feels a smirk play onto her lips as she hums, rolls her eyes around in a pantomime of thinking hard. “Think you might need a break, all this hard work.” She gestures toward the living room with her head – “Come sit?” – totes both glasses of wine and tucks the rest of the bottle under one arm for good measure.

Dani bounces down onto the couch, which, Jamie thinks, will forevermore be known to her only as the first place they had sex, scoops up her wine glass and settles in, one leg curled under her, body turned in toward Jamie.  

They spend the next bit of time alternately sharing stories and long kisses, letting the wine draw both out of them in turn and rarely completely breaking contact – someone’s hand is always resting on the other’s thigh; someone’s fingers always tucking hair behind the other’s ear while grinning at a funny story or fretting about a distressing one. Jamie feels herself getting tipsy, her thoughts becoming loose and hazy, but stopping short of fully drunk. It’s the perfect way, she thinks, to spend a late Christmas afternoon, and the fact that a week ago she’d never have predicted her luck makes her treasure it all the more.

Occasionally, Jamie sees Dani’s eyes flit to the clock on the wall, casually timing her steps in the kitchen. Several times, she slips away mid-sentence – always her own sentence, never when Jamie’s talking – and gives the sauce a stir, flow of conversation unbroken. After a bit, she inquires about a second pot, goes to put on water to boil the noodles.

Jamie realizes, when she doesn’t rise to get the required tool herself, just tells Dani where to find it, that she’s finding it both novel and enjoyable, this being taken care of. Whether she’s a natural caretaker or became one out of necessity during a neglectful and overburdened childhood, Jamie usually finds herself on the giving end of assistance, of tending, and especially of outright pampering like Dani is giving her now. It’s true with her plants, of course, but it’s also true of her more humanoid relationships: She had attended to Syd’s every whim, to a fault; their unbalanced responsibilities were one of the reasons they’d eventually parted ways. She gently watches over her handful employees, ensuring each gets the days off they request as often as possible, nurturing them as they grow into their horticulture skills. She makes herself available to Mikey in the most surreptitious ways possible, ensuring that he knows she’s always on the other end of the phone but never pushing so hard as to intrude. She even cares quietly for her parents, attending to little household repairs and chores – cleaning the gutters, pulling the ivy – without being asked, though that relationship is the most balanced she’s ever had.

She’s pulled from these thoughts by Dani’s return from the kitchen, this time holding a wooden spoon. “Taste test?” She holds it out to Jamie, hand underneath to catch any drips as she guides it to Jamie’s mouth.

“Fuck, baby, that’s delicious.” The sauce is rich and complex, warm and just a bit spicy. A completely different food than the jars of the stuff Jamie usually dumps into a microwave-safe bowl for heating.

Dani beams, her pride evident even as she goes to hedge, humble, “It’d be even better if I had all the herbs I usually use – ”

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Jamie apologizes. “I’ll have to stock up before – ” and she almost says next time I see you but catches herself, still not ready to tackle that dragon – “before long.”

Jamie thinks Dani’s guessed what she nearly said anyway, because her expression darkens for a moment and she turns quickly away, ostensibly to return to the sauce, with an overly bright, “No worries. This is going to do us just fine.”

Jamie trails her back into the kitchen, asks to be put to work again, if only to dispel the grey cloud, small but definitely there, that’s arisen at the unspoken thought of later. Dani accepts, instructs her to shred soft, fresh mozzarella and crumbly, flaky parmesan. Dani handles the mixing and seasoning of ricotta, and they each work in silence for a few minutes on their separate cheese-related tasks.

Finally, Dani is ready to assemble the lasagna, begins the work of layering, spreading, arranging with care, using her fingers to poke the ingredients into all the available space. She’s so engrossed in the work, in fact, that she gets flustered when again, her hair falls across her face, and she holds up ricotta-covered hands, tries uselessly to huff the offending strand out of her eyes with an upward-aimed puff of air.

“Here, lemme help.” Jamie fishes in the nearby odds-and-ends drawer for a hair tie, steps behind Dani and gathers her hair into a messy fistful. She rakes her fingers across Dani’s skull, working toward a semblance of order, and her heart pounds as wraps the elastic around once, twist, twice, twist, a third time. Somehow, and she has no idea how or why, this simple act feels like the most intimate thing she’s done with or to Dani all week – which, given the positions and stages of undress they’ve been in, is truly remarkable. Still, by the time she halves Dani’s thick ponytail and tugs either way to tighten the elastic’s hold, she’s flushed, takes a deep breath and a bracing gulp of wine to steady herself. 

When the whole beautiful tray of food is assembled – Jamie’s mountain of shredded additional cheese spread generously on top with a last sprinkle of herbs – and in the oven, Jamie rinses the prep dishes and lines them into the dishwasher as Dani prepares a salad into Jamie’s favorite large wooden bowl, placing it in the refrigerator to chill and absorb the flavors of the oil and vinegar.

When they reconvene on the couch, final pours of wine from the first bottle in hand, Jamie says, “So, I can’t help but notice that you’re really good at this – cooking I mean. And not just compared to me, like, really. I’m bloody excited for the finished product.”

“Thanks,” Dani says, ducking her head humbly. “But it’s just a little lasagna, no big deal really.”

“Ah, but, like, when you cut vegetables,” Jamie continues, making a slicing gesture with one hand in the air, “they all come out the same size. And you haven’t added a single bit of your own fingers, which is impressive in its own right. Dunno, you just look like you know what you’re doing.”

Dani laughs, shakes her head. “Fine, you caught me. I took cooking classes a couple of years ago. We did knife skills, basic sauces, wine pairings, kind of an overview I guess.” She shrugs, looks a tad uncomfortable.

“Really? That’s great. You seem to enjoy it,” Jamie ventures cautiously, a bit confused as to why Dani would feel “caught,” why exploring a new hobby that she clearly has an aptitude for would be such an admission for her.

“Yeah, I do, it turns out,” Dani nods, then sighs. “I’ve taken up a lot of…extracurricular activities in the past few years. Cooking classes, yoga, even tried to learn improv – that one was kind of a disaster though.” Jamie makes a mental note to return to that sometime, needs more details, a demonstration. “And I volunteer in two elementary schools. Anything to get out of the house, keep busy.” 

“Ah, I see. Keep you away from…home stuff.” Jamie’s heart aches for Dani, and she pictures her rushing from one activity to another, white knuckling her color-coded planner chock full of commitments. She conjures the image easily: it’s an adult version of high school Dani’s frantic overachievement, and, now she knows, with the same reason driving it. She places a hand on Dani’s knee, squeezes gently.

“You’ve spent a long time, lot of energy, trying to keep your mind off things, haven’t ya?” she moves her hand up to cup Dani’s face, brushes a thumb across her cheekbone. Dani leans into the touch, gives Jamie the weight of her head as she nods weakly. She looks exhausted. Jamie wants to tell her that’s all over now or it’ll be okay or it gets easier but she can’t be sure any of those things are true, so she says nothing, waits, supporting Dani with a firm hand.

Thinking about how Dani’s still going to have a lot of work to do to come to terms with who she is, figure out how she fits in the world now, regardless of how Jamie may or may not be involved, she asks, concerned, “Dani, do you have…people in LA? Friends?”

Dani looks up at her with miserable eyes, a twist of the lips. “A few. Friends of convenience, mostly. People in my cohort. Most of my friends are…were…Eddie’s, and not real friends at all. Haven’t heard from them much since the accident.”

Jamie scoffs, angry at these fair-weather fuckers, even if they almost certainly are not equipped to be good friends to Dani, they could have at least kept showing up for her.

“I do have one actual friend, though,” Dani says, brightening a shade. “Kristin. She’s…she’s actually the only other person I’ve come out to so far. She’s gay – she’d say queer – too, and I made friends with her separate from Eddie, met her in a book club, so it was easy to tell her.” Jamie nods. Interesting.

“She’s kinda been saving me, actually. We get drinks every Friday, and she’s been taking me around to all the different bars with queer happy hours.”   

Jamie squints. “Kristin,” she says shrewdly, “has a thing for you.”

“Jamie! She does not,” Dani smacks her softly on the leg, eyes surprised, stern. “Kristin has a girlfriend. A long-term girlfriend who she’s probably gonna marry soon. Plus, I…told her about you. She encouraged me to come home this week, find you.”

“That so?” Jamie asks, her emotions flying in seven directions, among them elation at being discussed prior to this week, curiosity for more details, and more than a hint of –

“Wait, Jamie, are you jealous of her?” Dani asks, incredulous, like it’s the most outlandish thing in the world that Jamie should be a tiny bit envious of this other woman, this other queer woman, who’s showing Dani around the gay bars of LA, getting Dani drinks every Friday night, hugging Dani good night, taking care of Dani – she stops herself before she gets any further down this increasingly unhelpful road. You asked about friends, she reminds herself, because you wanted to make sure Dani was being cared for.

“No. I mean, maybe,” she concedes. “Maybe a bit, yeah, I am. I mean – ” and she leans over amid her stuttering, grabs Dani around the waist, playful to balance out the seriousness, the boundary-pushing behind what she’s saying – “I just got ahold of ya, Clayton, can you blame me for not wanting to share?”

Dani giggles momentarily, pushes tickling hands away from her sides only to pull them back up her body, hold them in her own against her chest, quieting. Holding Jamie still, close, she looks across the short distance intensely, eyes glinting deep sapphire now that the winter sun has disappeared. 

“You don’t have to share, baby. I told you this morning. I want to be yours. I meant…just yours.” Her voice, as low as the light in the room, hits Jamie square in the stomach, pushes all the air from her lungs. Jamie can’t speak for several long moments, just hangs suspended in time.

“You do? Seriously.” Jamie’s heartbeat is thundering in her ears in time with the matched one she can feel where her hands are still being held tight, pressed between barely-clothed breasts.

“Dead serious. I mean, what else are we doing here, Jamie?”

“No, I know, I…” Jamie is still searching for the right words, isn’t prepared for this conversation, as much as she’d saw her own arm off rather than stop having it right now.

“Shit, I said too much, didn’t I?” Dani, misreading Jamie’s hesitancy, is blushing, pulling back, looking around as if for an exit. Jamie needs to act, now. Ready or not. Again.

“No, no! Not at all. The opposite, really. What I mean is – I kind of assumed I was the only one feeling things too big, too fast.” It’s not everything, but it’s a start.

“Nope,” Dani bites her lip, nods. “You’re in good company there, turns out.”

“Well that’s a bloody relief.” She means it, feels her shoulders fall, tension she didn’t know had been there releasing.

“I think….I think we both need to stop assuming we’re on different pages, ‘cause we keep finding out we’re on the same one.” Dani chews her lower lip. “And that’s information I’d like to have sooner than later at this point.”

Jamie guffaws – truer words never spoken. “Yeah, you’re absolutely right about that. Hasn’t exactly served us so far, has it, holding back?”

“No,” Dani says firmly, shaking her head as if to clear out all their past misunderstandings, missed connections, missed opportunities. “So I’m going to try, from here on out, to just…tell you when I feel something. Even something crazy. Like this.”

“You are incredible, you know that?” Jamie is awed by Dani’s boldness, her bravery – she’s the kind of person Jamie likes to think of herself as. And that should make Jamie feel insecure, small, afraid for what that means for her own identity, but…it doesn’t. Instead, she feels inspired to rise to Dani’s level of – if not blind trust, then, open curiosity about the possibility laid out before them. She presses a quick kiss at the corner of Dani’s mouth, not able to deny herself the sweetness of that any longer, before she begins.

“Okay, then, here’s what page I’m on. This, you and me, is the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time. Something I’ve been waiting for, without really knowing it. Same way I felt when I met you, if I’m being honest.” She purses her lips, thoughtful; she’s telling herself all of this fully for the first time, too, letting it land softly around both of them.

“I didn’t think I was missing anything before – I like my life, I’ve worked hard to make it just how I want it to be. It’s not exciting, really, at all, but it’s dependable, a good kind of boring.” Dani is smiling back at her tenderly, encouraging her to go on.

“And now you’re here, again, my world has expanded in this…incredible way, and I can already tell it can’t just go back, can’t just shrink back down to what it was before, even if I wanted it to. And that’s scary as hell, because it means that it either needs to stay full, or…or if it can’t, if something goes wrong, it’ll feel empty, be like a shell. Even though it’d be the same as before, it wouldn’t be enough anymore.” Dani nods, her eyebrows knit together in an expression of anguish and worry, but she stays quiet, lets Jamie continue.

“I don’t usually like to start things that don’t have a clear path forward – a safe landing spot I can see from where I’m standing. It’s a survival tactic for me, learned it a long time ago. But it’s not always needed, not always even helpful. And now, with this, I don’t think it’s even possible.” She gives a small, nearly noiseless laugh as Dani nods again, a hopeful glint appearing in her eyes. “And so, right now, you and me, I want it, Dani, I want it really fucking bad. Think I’ve never wanted anything more.” Dani’s face breaks open into her widest smile, but Jamie forges ahead, has one more thing she needs to get out.

“And it’s scary, but…” deep breath, “I already feel like I need it too.” She pauses, lets that hang, exhales heavily. “Is that…is that a crazy enough feeling for ya?” She smiles weakly, feels as though she could collapse and sleep for a day after offloading such a heavy weight.

Dani doesn’t stop smiling, just gathers Jamie into her, wraps her arms tight around Jamie’s shoulders and buries her face into Jamie’s neck. Jamie closes her eyes into it, lets herself be engulfed, held up by Dani – their positions reversed from just minutes ago. After a few moments, a few long deep breaths of Dani’s that seem to travel through her body as well, calming her, steadying her, she feels Dani nod against her shoulder, hears Dani’s gentle voice, muffled and warm against her, say the best thing she’s ever heard: “Me too.”

Jamie pulls back, holds Dani at arm’s length the better to look into ice-blue eyes, soft but serious. She feels her own eyes well up with relief and joy and disbelief, and her cheeks ache with smiling that could become crying if she let it. She can’t speak, but doesn’t need to, she’s said what needs to be said. Now she can just gaze at Dani’s face, full of care, full of the wonder that Jamie herself feels, the glowing astonishment reflected and amplified a thousand times as in a series of mirrors.

When Dani brings her hands up to bracket Jamie’s face, Jamie is already moving toward her, moving as if sharing a mind, coming together in a kiss that’s half smiles and half sniffles and half sensual lips, so full is it. For many long minutes, time moves like thick honey as Jamie caresses the back of Dani’s neck, runs her fingers down over Dani’s collarbone, grips Dani’s elbows lightly, all the while keeping their faces close, kissing, nuzzling, breathing each other in.

It’s the audible grumble of Dani’s stomach that finally parts them, makes Dani’s eyes move at last, painfully, from Jamie and up to the clock. She presses her lips together, as if scolding the clock for its truth, so Jamie takes the fall and supplies the necessary “Dinner time?”

-

Jamie sets her small table as Dani pulls the lasagna from a steaming, fragrant oven, lets it rest as the opens another bottle of wine, sets the salad out of the fridge. The plate she places in front of Jamie is nothing short of heavenly, and it’s with utmost anticipation that Jamie raises her wine glass, clinks, and drinks before digging in.

The wine is different, cherries again but tart and light on the tongue, which Dani explains is intended to keep their taste buds from being lulled too much by the richness of the lasagna. Jamie leans back in her chair and smiles to herself, watching Dani talk animatedly about the science behind the wine pairing with an easy confidence.

The meal is perfect, and Jamie savors each bite nearly as much as she does the view across the table, the warmth settling deep in her abdomen the sum result of both. They talk little after Dani’s culinary lecture, instead staring openly at one another, the silence between them soft, a blanket, snow. Occasionally one of them will laugh, and though it arises as if from nowhere, it’s matched seamlessly and immediately by the other, a shared joke materialized of its own accord. When Dani slips her foot under the table to brush up Jamie’s sweatpant-clad leg, Jamie’s stomach somersaults – because how is this woman able to upend her with a movement so small, done partially as a joke, the cliché of it enough to make it silly, never mind the teasing glint in Dani’s eye. 

When all that’s left on their plates are smudges of sauce and errant spinach leaves, Jamie carefully puts away the leftovers, rinses the dishes in the sink. She bats Dani’s offers to help away firmly: “Absolutely not. You cooked. I clean up. House rule.” Dani uses the time to take another turn through Jamie’s living room – lightly touching a chunk of raw turquoise she finds on the bookshelf, smelling the flowers on the potted plants – cataloguing all the pieces of Jamie’s life she can through any sense possible.

When she finishes her work, Jamie crosses the living room to where Dani has paused, head tilted to one side as she thumbs across a row of books, reading their titles. Jamie steps to her quietly, wraps her arms around her waist from behind, leans into her, breathing in the scent of her hair, her skin. She places her lips once on each exposed shoulder, and Dani leans back into the touch, lets her head fall back, inviting Jamie to move her mouth to the column of her neck.

Which she does, grazing her lips along sensitive skin, at the same time spinning Dani by her hips and stepping closer in so that she’s got Dani pressed up against the bookcase. She’s not intending to start anything too serious this soon after dinner, but after nearly an hour of not-touching, Jamie has rapidly become aware of the need to touch. So, she moves slowly, sensually, making contact with all her favorite parts of Dani’s body – she already has favorites – a freckle on the front of her left shoulder, the hollow of her neck, the soft round of each hip. Dani hums and presses back into Jamie’s kisses and caresses, arching her back up off the bookcase to press herself forward.

Jamie pulls her toward the couch, stumbles when she hits the edge of it sooner than she expects – it’s a short fall, and they land together giggling, the silliness enough to temporarily break the heat that had been building despite Jamie’s intentions. From her position on top, playfully straddling Jamie’s lap, Dani lets the laughter bring her all the way down, rests her whole body against Jamie’s for a long, luxurious few minutes, the stillness coalescing around them like amber – Jamie wills it to have the same effect, orders her body and brain to record, frozen, the exact feel of Dani’s head on her chest, Dani’s weight anchoring her, warm and solid and safe.

When Dani breaks contact for a moment to shift her body into a more comfortable position, Jamie asks, “Want to watch a movie or something?”    

“Mmm, that sounds nice,” Dani says. “Christmas movie?”

“Exactly what I was thinking,” Jamie says, reaching to the table behind her for the remote and cueing up her Netflix account. “White Christmas, for old time’s sake?” She’s already clicking the buttons that will navigate to the classic, knows Dani will agree – it’s the film they’d watched each Christmas break together, huddled up on the couch at Jamie’s house under a pile of blankets, Amy delivering sugar cookies and cocoa with candy canes to stir, a holiday tradition.

Dani hums into her side and snuggles in close as Jamie hits play and the orchestral swells of the opening credits wash over them, bringing decades of nostalgia – their own and countless others’ somehow carried along as well – that lull them into a content quiet. As they watch, Jamie strokes Dani’s hair, scratches her scalp lightly, playing. Dani keeps her palm flat on Jamie’s chest, riding the waves of her inhales and exhales until the spot beneath her hand is radiating heat. Then, she walks her fingers down, lifts the hem of Jamie’s shirt, slides underneath to repeat the position directly onto the bare skin of Jamie’s stomach. Jamie shivers, laughs, dips her head to kiss Dani at the base of her now-mussed ponytail.

Eventually, Jamie becomes aware that she’s a bit cold in her short sleeves, worries about Dani in her similarly unseasonal outfit. “Baby, you warm enough?” she asks, brushing a thumb over Dani’s bare shoulder to accentuate the point.

“Mmmhmmm, all but my feet actually,” she answers, kicking one up into the air and wiggling her toes. “Could I borrow some of your good socks? Mine are all not that great, as it turns out. I think I forgot how to dress for actual winter.”

Jamie snickers, having made note of some of Dani’s less than seasonable fashion choices herself. As Dani’s already pushed herself up and off the couch, is halfway to the hallway on bouncy feet, Jamie tells her aloud which drawer she keeps her socks in rather than fetching them herself. She feels minorly like a bad host because of this, she reflects from her reclined position, but mostly just feels a warm sense that it’s perfectly natural for Dani to help herself; she already just belongs in Jamie’s space.

She’s gone a few clicks longer than Jamie would expect, though, and she begins to second guess her instructions: does she actually keep them in the left-most drawer, or is it the right? “Find something to suit?” she shouts out, and is starting to roll over, preparing to go provide assistance (and maybe a playful push onto the bed) when Dani answers.

“Uh, yeah, uh huh, good,” Her voice comes back a little higher than Jamie expected, a little bit…strangled. And Dani’s face, when she pads around the hall corner is also much, much redder than it ought to be.

“Um, I also, totally accidentally, but I didn’t want to lie about it, um, I found this?” she brings a hand from behind her back, and Jamie feels her face flush to match. Held out gingerly between Dani’s thumb and forefinger is a particular object Jamie had honestly forgotten cohabitates with her warmest socks rather than the box shoved in the back of her closet: her most favorite vibrator.

“Oh, yeah, that’s…well. Sorry bout that,” Jamie stammers, though she knows she has nothing to be sorry for, it just…what else do you say when someone found your sex toy and looks mildly embarrassed – if also a tiny bit excited – about it?

“No, no, I’m sorry, I really wasn’t snooping, I just, my hand brushed against it, and” Jamie’s stomach does a little somersault at brushed against it.

“Totally fine. No shame, eh?” Jamie says, as lightly as she can manage. Dani nods, her blush fading a degree. Jamie continues, nearly without thinking about what she’s saying, just, staring at the vibrator in Dani’s fingers, the contrast of what she’s got for another day and the approximation she’ll be left with, it slips out: “Let’s be honest, poor thing’s probably going to get a lot more action in the next few months.”

Dani’s eyes flash, and a surprised smile jumps to replace the nervous apology on her face.

“Oh yeah?” Eyebrows raise along with her inflection.

“Um, yeah. Obviously.” Jamie shrugs, “I mean, can’t expect me not to need something after all this,” she gestures between them with a small smile.

“Mmmm,” Dani nods, and, seeming to warm up to the device imagining its future use, wraps her hand all the way around it as if weighing it as she walks toward Jamie, all faux-innocence and curiosity now. “And…what’ll you do with it? In the next few months?”

Jamie chuckles. “I mean, what anyone does, I assume.” All of a sudden, a truly terrible thought occurs to her, and she asks with furrowed brows: “Wait, you…you have a vibrator, right Dani?”

Dani bites her lower lip, face reddening again. “I, uh, yeah. I do. I don’t use it very often. It’s not a very nice one, I don’t think,” she says, rubbing one finger over the matte navy silicone of the toy as if comparing it mentally with what’s waiting in her own bedside table.

Jamie thinks about how much Dani enjoys being teased, touched, fucked. Thinks about how she’s going to be desperately limited in how she’ll be able to do all those things to Dani herself, and all too soon.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to fix that for ya, babe. I can help you find a good one. Worthy investment, that.”

“Okay,” Dani breathes. “So that we can…um, or I can…later, when-” Jamie can’t tell if she’s trying to avoid talking about phone sex itself or the more basic fact that they’re going to be apart very, very, soon, guesses it’s both and doesn’t care, just wants her to know – “We can.” Jamie nods, placing her hands over Dani’s and the toy, pulling both into her own lap, close. “We will. Tons, if I had to guess,” she laughs and rolls her eyes.

Dani’s tension breaks for a moment, and she giggles along with Jamie as she takes her spot on the couch once again. Just as fast, though, like a heat storm rolling in over the cornfields, her eyes darken, and the energy between them makes a slight but consequential shift.

“Show me?” Dani asks, her voice falling as her eyes rise, cobalt, to bore into Jamie’s.

Jamie, caught off guard, her breath hitching, splutters back an echo: “Show you?”

“Yeah, show me…what you’ll do. What you do. With this.” Dani’s confidence trails ever so slightly at the end, her eyes sliding nervously to the side, but she regathers it, adds, “Please. I’d like to…I’d like to know what to imagine. Later.”

She holds the vibrator out and Jamie’s breath stops completely for a moment, at Dani’s boldness, at her open wanting, at how brave she’s being in the face of their imminent separation, at the determined, but not desperate, way she’s forging ahead in this journey they’re on. She wants to give Dani anything, everything in her power, wants to be just as bold and brave and determined. But she also wasn’t mentally prepared for this request in the middle of a lazy cuddle session – while Dani had been on her socks mission, Jamie’d been missing her hand under her shirt, was planning in fact on sneaking a few kisses before restarting the movie, sure – but she hadn’t planned on putting on a solo show on-demand.

“Show you…now?” Jamie asks, sort of pathetic, pleading, taking the toy from her but letting her hand fall to her side, noncommittal.

“When else?” The blunt way she puts it, the fact of their time running short, is almost enough to get Jamie to give in. Almost.

“I…I dunno, Dani. I like participation when it’s available.”  

“Please? I’ll be right here. I want to watch. It’s my turn, after all.” She grins at the callback to her own cheekiness in the kitchen, and Jamie knows she’s done for.

“Okay, fair’s fair I suppose. But know that you’re invited to join in, whenever you want to.”

“Deal.” Dani nods, looks awfully proud of her bargaining win.

Jamie lets out a long breath. “I’m…not really sure how to start.”

“Just do what you’d do if I wasn’t here,” Dani says, gentle encouragement. “And, um, it’s okay if you want to tell me what you’re doing, too. If you want to,” she adds hastily, but she can’t hide the eagerness on her face. Which turns out to be a good thing, because it’s the hungry glint in Dani’s eye, the way she’s settling herself in at the other end of the couch like she’s just scored a ticket to the greatest show on earth, that finally breaks Jamie’s hesitance all the way down. She settles in as well, scooting down the couch so as to be properly lying back, lets her head fall against the throw pillow.

“Okay, so, I guess I usually start by just using my hands, kind of easing in, yeah?” She runs her hands down the front of her body and under the waistband of her sweatpants, palming her own hipbones, the tops of her thighs. She’s about to drift across the front of her underwear when Dani interrupts: “Um, I can’t see what you’re doing? Pants off, please.”

The playful authority behind the request makes Jamie’s mouth go dry, and she doesn’t hesitate, shucks the offending sweats off.

“As I was saying,” she says, huffing gently in Dani’s direction, “I just use my hands first, touch everywhere, get properly warm. And of course, you’ll be talking to me the whole time.” Dani’s eyes are sparkling, watching Jamie’s hands as they roam the insides of her thighs, press into femurs, pull on the edges of her underwear, skim across the fabric of them.

“Fuck,” Dani breathes.

“Then,” Jamie’s warming up in more ways than one now, is starting to enjoy how hot and bothered this is getting Dani, and she’s not even really begun. “Then I get this little friend out.” She pulls the vibrator from where it’s fallen next to her, clicks it on. “Damn thing has too many settings, honestly; I use just this little low steady one.”

She thumbs the dial until it reaches the proper setting, holds it out for Dani to feel – if she wants an immersive experience, Jamie’s going to give it to her. Dani jumps a bit at the offer, but, as she always seems to, rises to the occasion as soon as the initial shock passes, closes her fingertips momentarily on the end of the toy, gasps, nods.

Jamie grins, taking the toy back, says, “So, now I still don’t move too fast – ”

“Hmph,” Dani huffs, apparently in agreement, and Jamie smirks in spite of herself, assuming Dani’s thinking of how she worked her over this morning.

“I like to let things build,” she continues, and trails the tip of the toy along her inner thigh, then lightly back up, just to the left of where she really wants it. She feels that she’s already swollen, uses two fingertips of her free hand to press gently on the crotch of her underwear, teasing.

“I bet you’re really wet,” Dani says, her voice gone husky, and the sound makes Jamie press her heels into the cushion of the couch, tip her head back.

“Fuck, yeah, I am,” she answers, moving the toy a bit more firmly just north of her clit, presses it for a few beats to stave off the ache that’s built there.

Dani is audibly panting now, and bites her lip as she places one hand on either of Jamie’s knees, parting them further, then runs her hands down Jamie’s shins, circles her ankles, searching for skin she can be in contact with but not interrupt. When she flicks out her tongue, wets her lips, Jamie groans.

“Mmmph. Fuck, baby, you’re making this easy,” she grins, dirty, rocks her hips forward and up into the solid purr of the vibrator, makes sure Dani catches how hard she pushes, needy. And it looks like Dani does – because she’s rocking now herself, rolling her hips down hard where she sits, and now her hands are moving from gripping Jamie’s ankles to scraping along the sides of Jamie’s underwear, inching them down over her hips with clumsy, overexcited fingers.

Jamie lifts, wriggles to help, laughing at Dani’s insistence even as it works her higher – being wanted so much is its own kind of euphoria, and she’s not sure she’s ever felt it quite this way.   

With full access now to every part of her throbbing core, Jamie hums in bliss as she guides the tip of the toy between her lips, finds it slides as easily as she’d imagined. “Now, I’ll just be imagining your fingers here,” she says, relishing the sigh the words draw from Dani. “And pretty soon I’ll be begging you to fuck me – ” her groan is only partly voluntary, intended to torment Dani, who whines back in response, curls her tongue onto her front teeth, frustrated.

“Said you should join in,” Jamie teases her. Dani’s eyes widen, and Jamie expects her to thrust a hand down to touch herself, reciprocate the game, but instead, in one fluid motion, Dani shucks her own pants – underwear and all – off and climbs on top of Jamie. She pauses for a moment to pant one heated kiss against Jamie’s mouth, one lick of desperate tongue, before lowering herself down, straddling so that she’s pressing her center down onto Jamie’s, the toy between them.

The angle is a bit awkward, but it works, and Jamie exhales heavily as Dani’s own arousal coats the back of Jamie’s hand, the toy she’s holding. The weight of Dani’s body pushes both the vibrations and the physical form of the toy into Jamie much harder, much quicker than she’d planned on, and between that and the fact of Dani’s hungry, bold move, her eyes roll back as she adjusts to the escalation.

“Dani,” she chokes out, not able to find many words, so overwhelmed are her senses. She loses her grip on the handle of the vibrator, too, but it stays in place, dangerously close to too intense, but remaining just shy of contact that would be too much.

“Sorry, couldn’t keep off you any longer,” Dani says, growling as she rolls her hips down, takes the same sensations she’s giving Jamie.

“Mm, nothing, oh,” Jamie stutters, “Nothing to be…” Fuck it. Show, don’t tell, she thinks, and grips Dani around her waist, moves Dani on top of her while rolling up to create friction. Nothing to be sorry for.

Dani moves quickly from panting to moaning, gripping the back of the couch and riding the toy and Jamie both with such intensity that her eyes are closing as she chants, “Jamie, fuck, oh, Jamie, Jamie, oh, so good.” Jamie feels herself getting closer with every repetition of her name on Dani’s parted lips, every erratic thrust of Dani’s body that leaves her sliding against Jamie, augmenting the vibrator’s sensations by tilting it forward and back along Jamie’s core, favoring her clit and her entrance in alternating pulses.

“Dani, baby, oh god, fuck, can you come like this?” Jamie’s teetering on the edge, and the only thing that can possibly make this better is if she doesn’t go alone.  

“Oh yeah, fuck, yeah, definitely,” Dani’s answer is accompanied by an emphatic nod that tosses her sweat-curled ponytail side to side.

“Good, baby, good. I want to make you come,” Jamie says, nudging her own urgency aside for a moment and forcing herself to concentrate on pushing Dani higher before she lets herself fall.

“Unnnh, not gonna take long, fuck, I’m close,” she moans out, and Jamie feels herself clench once in response. She’s so ready, not long now. She moves one hand from Dani’s waist down to palm over her clit, knows she’s getting some vibrations but not much pressure there, and the response is immediate: Dani’s mouth forms into a silent scream, her eyes screw shut, and she grinds down harder than ever into Jamie. The combined effect is that Jamie feels herself start to tumble, can’t hold back any longer, hopes it’s enough to say, “Fuck, Dani, fuck, I’m coming, come with me,” knows it is when Dani’s words become one low, ferocious scream as she quakes, falls her head down onto the back of the couch.

A few breaths later, Dani lets herself collapse all the way down onto Jamie, who wraps her legs around Dani’s still shaking body, feeding off her aftershocks even as she’s riding her own. She cups Dani’s chin in one hand and brings their lips together into a kiss, drinking in the way Dani’s breath is still shuddering even as she gently tongues at Jamie’s lower lip. When she realizes she needs to catch her own breath as well, she lies back again, pulling Dani close.  

“Well, I can say – with bloody confidence – that it will be nothing like that when we’re on the phone,” Jamie says with a smile that’s half a sly grin – truly, really, who the hell knew Dani Clayton had this level of absolutely delectable filth in her – and half something much lower, the truth – that it won’t be like this, that it won’t be anywhere near this good, won’t be at all bearable having Dani half a country away.

“I know,” Dani says, “we’ve really got to figure out what to do about that, don’t we?”

Chapter Text

Normally Jamie curses when her body wakes her up before she has to be – for all the early mornings she pulls, they don’t actually come naturally to her, but are the product of a careful discipline honed over the years, gradually bending her sleep schedule to fit her decidedly “up with the sun” profession. This morning, though, when she wakes with an urgent need to pee, she quickly shifts from damning all that red wine from the night before – her first instinct – to thanking it for interrupting unnecessary, wasteful time in bed but not touching Dani, or not touching her nearly enough.

So, when she shuffles back from the bathroom, she lifts the sheet and snuggles in close, wrapping her arms around Dani’s waist, and presses gentle lips to her cheeks, her forehead, the corner of her mouth, kissing her slowly but surely awake.

When blue eyes finally flutter open and fall on Jamie’s face, they register pleasure first, then cloud with worry – “Oh nooo, I fell asleep!”

“Morning,” Jamie smiles in spite of the mournful way Dani’s still looking at her, lower lip in a pout. “Not to worry. I did too. Good to get a bit of rest, anyway.” She’d say anything at this point to reassure Dani that nothing’s been lost, even as she feels it has, even as she’s glancing toward her bedside clock, the evil thing reading 8:42 am.

“Was thinking I’d take you to breakfast?” Jamie asks, sheepish, since she failed utterly at preparing for this eventuality, food having been not the last thing on her mind for the weekend, but one of them.

Dani’s eyebrows scrunch in response. “Don’t really wanna get dressed. Definitely don’t wanna leave here,” her eyes drift over the bed, comforter kicked nearly off the end, her tank top from the night before barely hanging on one corner. “Do you have flour, milk, and an egg in that bachelor’s kitchen of yours?” her mouth turns up at the edges, teasing.  

“Well yeah, I’m no master chef, but I’m not a robot either. I do eat,” Jamie says, feigning sullenness for the appeasing grin back she knows it’ll earn her.

“Great, if you’ve got all that, then you have pancakes,” Dani grins, and bounces up to place a now-very-awake kiss on the side of Jamie’s face, then immediately moves to pull on odd pieces of clothing, an amalgam of her own and Jamie’s. Jamie has no choice but to follow suit, and again finds herself being led through her own house, following a comet’s tail of blonde that’s moving impossibly fast for a pre-caffeine human.

In the kitchen, Jamie busies herself with the kettle while Dani retrieves mixing bowl, whisk, and measuring cups from their places. Though Jamie knows she’s only learned yesterday where they’re kept, watching Dani move with more confidence around the kitchen makes a wholesome warmth bloom in her chest, pushing at the edges of her ribcage. Once the water’s on its way to boiling, she supplies the requested ingredients, and Dani sets to work as Jamie brews tea for the both of them.

They work silently alongside each other, preparing breakfast in the midmorning light coasting in through the kitchen window like they’ve been doing this for years. When they necessarily cross paths in the tight space, Jamie trails her fingers across the small of Dani’s back, and Dani hums lightly in response. When Dani finds Jamie blocking the sink, she bumps her with her hip, then nips a playful kiss onto Jamie’s shoulder when Jamie responds to the nonverbal request, scooting over.

They sit down to large mugs of tea, plates of warm pancakes slathered in butter and a light drizzle of syrup each – Jamie had been pleasantly surprised that she had any of the stuff at all, being generally opposed to sweets for breakfast, but there wasn’t much, and they’d had to stretch it. As they settle in to eat, they seem to realize in tandem the contrast between the cozy morning mood that’s ensconced the scene and the too-bright truth facing the rest of the day: it’s their last one together. For now, Jamie harshly corrects herself. Till god knows when, the cynical, scared part of her retorts.

And so, reluctantly, as she’s mopping up the last of the sticky sweetness on her plate with a final soggy bit of pancake, Jamie turns their conversation toward the topic. Though she’d rather talk about anything else, it’s becoming clear, the silence turned from comfortable to leaden, that they have to address the fact of it.

“So. Full day ahead. Last one till, well, till the next one,” she improvises hope, smiles across at Dani in what she intends as a bracing way.

Dani nods, her eyes momentarily watery, takes a deep, only slightly shaky breath. “Yeah,” she manages, before retreating into her cup of tea.

“What, uh…” Jamie winds her hand into the mess of curls on the back of her head, “what should we do?”

This makes Dani smile, even as she’s still hunkered down behind the rim of her mug. Apparently this answer is easy. “Anything. Anything at all, just, if I can be with you all day long, that’s what I want.” 

She stops for a moment, tilts her head, considering Jamie across the table. “I mean, though, I should ask – was there something you need to do today? Because I can entertain myself for a while, go for a walk downtown or something, um, if you need me to?” Dani’s voice trails off at the end, like she’s unsure both of what she’s offering and if it’s necessary.

Jamie very nearly dismisses the question out of hand – in fact, she laughs out loud at the thought of sending Dani away from her before the very moment she has to. She’s on board with Dani’s first, truer answer: no way in hell is she going to waste precious minutes of today being out of Dani’s sight. But then she remembers that her employees are still on their holiday vacations, she herself planning to work in daily visits to the property around her nearly nonexistent, and all in-town, holiday plans. Yet, due to the incredibly fortuitous occurrences of the week, she hasn’t been on the property in nearly 48 hours. Probably everything is fine, but…she’d planned on checking in. Plus, it would be nice to show Dani around the place she spends 75% of her time.

When she says as much to Dani, she half expects disappointment – she’d just said, after all, that she wanted neither to get dressed nor stray too far from the bedroom – but Dani, as always, surprises her in the best way: her eyes sparkle, she sits up straighter, she smiles.

“Oh, Jamie, I’d love to see it!” She looks thoughtful for a moment, adds, “Will we get very dirty?” Jamie wonders or a second if she’s being cheeky, but her face is all innocent curiosity, so she answers the question at face value. “No? Why?”

“Trying to see if we’re gonna shower now, or after,” Dani says sensibly, her blue eyes betraying no sign that she knows her use of “we’re” in that sentence has made Jamie’s mouth go dry.

“Ah,” she says, “No, not dirty work today. Can shower now, if you like.” She smiles, because Dani’s on the move again already, sweeping their used dishes into a stack and whisking them to the sink on her way back to the bedroom. And damn if Jamie, for all her blustering about needing to take her time in the morning, for all her grumbling about routine and her determined plan-laid lifestyle, couldn’t get used to this infusion of energy, of joyful rather than plodding purpose, into her days.

Once she’s caught up with Dani in the tiled bathroom, Jamie cranks the left knob – hot water – as far as it goes, adds just a slight turn of the right, as she does every morning, then steps back to let the heat build properly. Showers that are truly, scaldingly hot are one of her little luxuries in life. They wake her up, they jump start her brain, they massage sore muscles when there isn’t anyone else around to do it for her.

“Mind if I go ahead?” Dani slips past her, gestures toward the shower. She’s already gloriously naked, the steam already curling the hair around her face in a way Jamie finds positively entrancing, which is probably why it takes her till one second too late to give a warning about the temperature she’s set the water on by force of habit.

“Go ahead but I should warn you – ” But she’s too late. At go ahead, Dani has already pushed aside the curtain and climbed in, and Jamie winces as she yelps, jumps to the back of the tub to move out of range.

“Shit, sorry, turn it down, left handle!” Jamie rushes over to do it herself, doesn’t want Dani to get scalded again trying to figure out the knobs. But Dani’s wet hand stops hers as she goes to adjust. “No, it’s good now that I’m in here. Hotter than I usually like but…not bad at all,” she gives a sly grin, blinks water out of her eyes, tugs on Jamie’s wrist. “Just, you get in here too.”

Jamie needs no further instruction than that, and slips through the curtain eagerly to find herself face to face with a naked, wet, grinning vision, realizes that she’s smiling so hard her cheeks are pressing up into her eyes even as they’re blurring with shower water. With a playful shake of her head, she steps to Dani, pulls her into a steamy kiss.

So as not to have either one of them cold, she positions them so the water falls between them: Dani against the wall, her own heels pressed against the edge of the tub for stability, hands on either side of Dani’s waist on the cold tile. She leans in for as long as she can each time, kissing and licking, until she has to retreat out of the spray to shake water from her eyes and nose. Dani, for her part, has her face scrunched adorably against the warm mist, her head resting back on the shower wall, hips canted toward Jamie, hands sliding along her waist. Her hair, darkened almost to a brown when wet, is plastered over her shoulders, and Jamie traces the veins of it against her skin.

Dani turns and picks up the bottle of body wash, lathers her hands, and smooths them across Jamie’s shoulders, down Jamie’s arms, using the slip of the suds to travel all the way down to intertwine their fingers. She proceeds like this, carefully and tantalizingly washing Jamie’s skin, and it’s sweet and it’s sexy and it nearly makes Jamie cry because she’s missed this level of intimacy.

She finds the same bottle, returns Dani’s actions, taking in each part of Dani in this new environment, well-lit and face to face: Dani’s stomach slightly rounded where hers is hard and flat, Dani’s hips a gentle swell where hers form more or less a straight line from her torso.

She gently nudges Dani to turn around so she can wash her back, passes soapy hands across perfect skin, fixating for a minute on the shoulders that Jamie remembers freckle in summer, can make out the ghosts of tan lines across the skin there, and allows herself the luxury of looking forward to when she’ll get to see them emerge in earnest again, will trace them with the tip of her tongue, when Dani’s skin will be warm from the sun, salty from sweat or the ocean.

She reaches around and runs her slippery palms in a path across Dani’s breasts, cupping their undersides, circling nipples, ghosting down her stomach before starting again until Dani giggles, “I think these are clean now.”

“Mmm, can never be too sure though, can you?” she grins the words into Dani’s shoulder, pointedly does not relocate her attentions. Dani lets her head fall back to rest on Jamie’s shoulder, leaning back, apparently in agreement.

And aside from the closeness, aside from the pure animal heart-pounding rightness of being naked and wet and warm together, the thing that hits Jamie hardest is that they’re having fun. It’s been years since she last found herself at the intersection of joy and attraction – probably since the early days with Syd. As she’s already admitted to Dani, she’s had a few women in her bed, even a couple in her shower, since then, but never like this. Never with laughter ringing against the tile walls, never with touches that are just for their own sake, not navigating purposefully toward an end goal that will resolve in a few minutes on the bed, on the floor of Jamie’s room, before a heated but rushed goodbye. No, she and Dani are sharing time like they have an endless well of it. Dani drifts her fingers low on Jamie’s abdomen, brushes them tantalizingly close, in fact, even presses between her thighs for a moment, but not in a desperate way, not even with a goal in mind other than the mere fact of touching Jamie.

What they don’t have an endless well of, it turns out, is hot water, and when it goes, it goes fast. Jamie reaches in a rush to turn off the taps before they get frozen, and, still laughing, throws a towel around them both, pulling Dani in close to keep the heat in. Eventually it’s inevitable that they have to move, and they do so reluctantly, with a last drippy nuzzle and kiss, Jamie watching the droplets hanging onto the tips of Dani’s curls like they do on leaves in the nursery before making their final fall.

What with the long get-ready time, it’s already nearing lunch by the time they finally leave the house. With jokes that she’s the kind of boss who never lets her workers go hungry, Jamie navigates first to her favorite café, which has been serving working-class Davenporters since long before either of them were born from its spot nestled on a side street. They order sandwiches wrapped in to-go paper, along with what Dani calls, in her trademark terrible imitation of Jamie’s accent, a “proh-puh caw-fee” for each of them, Jamie reasoning that she needs all the caffeine she can get today.

The ride to the nursery is easy and light, and Jamie is surprised at how much getting out of the house is alleviating the sense of impending doom that had been building in her head anytime she’d stopped to think too long. Something about being under the broad skies, grey though they are this time of year. Something about driving the familiar route from home to work, but with someone next to her, someone’s hand on her thigh, someone’s eyes on her profile as she drives. Something about seeing Dani’s expression as she pulls up to the business she’s built that’s more like a home away from home, a piece of her made solid in wood and glass and growing things.

Jamie grins over at her, knowing that she’s doing a poor job hiding the pride she feels in this place and caring little. Because Dani is moving her gaze between the sturdy but aesthetically pleasing buildings, and Jamie. Between the row of utility vehicles neatly parked along a split rail fence, each bearing her business logo, and Jamie. Between the gravel pathway leading into the grove of saplings, and Jamie.

“You built this,” Dani’s voice is imbued with just enough wonder that Jamie smiles instead of commenting on the level of surprise in her tone.

“I did,” Jamie nods.

“It’s amazing, Jamie.”

Jamie beams back. “Yeah, pretty proud of it myself, actually. But you haven’t even seen the inside yet.” She gestures with her head, exits the truck, meets Dani round the other side and takes her hand. Unlocking the door to the main greenhouse and holding it open for Dani, she feels like a kid eager to show off her room to a friend who’s come over for the first time.

Once inside, enveloped in warm air and soft light, Dani’s eyes are on the roam again. Jamie watches as she takes in the rows upon rows of seedlings in their trays, the watering and lighting equipment she’s worked hard to finance and install, the work tables that line one wall and carry stacks of pots and caddies of tools just biding their time until the impending busy season.

“Oh my god. Baby.”  Dani’s voice retains the quality of wonder, of respect, but is tinged with….sadness? Jamie tilts her head, searching for the source of that shift, but doesn’t find it yet, instead finds Dani’s hand wrapped round her wrist, pulling her to her side, and turns her head to catch Dani’s nuzzle into her forehead.

“C’mon, you ready to get to work?”

Dani nods and follows Jamie, watching studiously as she describes the task of checking the trays of starts for signs of disease or pest damage.

“You sure I’m qualified to do that? Seems important,” Dani says, concerned.

“Of course. ‘S not that hard when you know what to look for and you’re careful. Plus, I trust you,” Jamie says, meeting her eyes.

Dani naturally does an excellent job, identifying several trays with worrying leaf spots during the time it takes Jamie to make the rounds with plant food. It’s a job well done, and she tells her so. She doesn’t mention how watching Dani brush her hair out of her face as she cradled one bud between gentle fingers, considering it fully before moving on to its neighbor, made Jamie’s knees go weak. She also doesn’t mention the immense flood of gratitude she feels that Dani, class president, made-it-out-of-Iowa, PhD candidate Dani, takes her own decidedly blue collar work so seriously, that she gives Jamie’s seedlings her undivided attention in a way few others would. She stores these memories for herself, precious things to take out and examine later with that same soft devotion.

When they finish, Jamie suggests they take lunch “in the back room,” and shows Dani the way to her office. They have their sandwiches at the small table she keeps for just this purpose, Dani asking thoughtful questions about the space, the work, and the business aspect of the nursery, Jamie answering each in turn, delighting in Dani’s interest. When there’s a lull in the conversation, though, she catches Dani’s gaze fall, brows furrowing and lips twisting as though she’s participating in an argument, not the light conversation Jamie’s experiencing.

It’s so very incongruous that Jamie has to ask this time, “Dani, what’s wrong?”

Dani sits up straight, arranges her face quickly into a desperate smile that Jamie knows is entirely fake. “C’mon, what’s wrong?” she presses.

“I just…This is amazing, Jamie. I’m so proud of you. It’s…it’s really impressive.” Dani’s eyes are darting about so fast she’s practically shaking her head.

“You mentioned, and thank you. So, why do you look like I ran over your dog on the way here?” A thin line of panic is rising in Jamie’s mind, so confused is she about why Dani’s acting so strangely.

“It’s nothing. It’s selfish.”

“What, you hate my choice of flooring back here? You’re scaring me Dani, what is it?”

“Fine. I shouldn’t even say this but. Well. You built this beautiful place, this beautiful thing, Jamie, and I can’t – fuck – I can’t ask you to leave it.”

“You…are you asking me to go somewhere?” Jamie’s feeling blindsided by a swirl of emotions, but surprise has taken the lead for now.

“Well, no, not today but, long term…”

Jamie understands, follows the sentence to its unspoken conclusion, supplies: “You’d die before you’d move back here.”

Dani hesitates, then, “Yeah, I just…can’t. I wish, I honestly wish I wanted that, it would make things so much easier…” she trails off, bitter. 

“But you already know you can’t make yourself want something you don’t,” Jamie finishes the thought for her.

“Yeah,” Dani says, “But it’s not like I’m tied to LA either, like, at all. I don’t fit there either. It’s just where we – I – ended up. Made sense at the time. Now…it doesn’t. Or, it does less and less.”

Jamie nods thoughtfully. “Well,” she starts, then stops. Takes her time choosing the most correct words for what wants to convey. “Well, then, it seems to me this particular problem might be one we figure out later on, after you’re well and truly done in LA. Because I truly CANNOT imagine living amongst the glitterati and sweating every goddamn day,” Dani gives a thin laugh, and Jamie continues swiftly so she won’t lose hope: “But. While I do have ties here, deep roots as it were,” she waves a hand, encompassing the greenhouse, the business, her family, her hometown. “You know, I reckon I’m probably hardy enough to survive a transplant. Long as it’s to the right climate.”

Dani’s eyes fill. “Really? You’d – you’d think about it?”

“IF, I said, if, the right climate,” Jamie says, acting as though this is the most important part of what she’s just offered – more than she’d expected, more than was required, but fully true, she’s finding, in the moment.

“Okay. Noted. You need gross rain and terribly cold winters. I’ll keep that in mind,” Dani says, and though certainly no solid plans will come of this conversation, she can see the stress melting off Dani as she picks up the game.

“I mean, don’t need to freeze my tits off, but would like four seasons,” she says.

“All right. I think we can do that,” Dani smiles fully now, and Jamie thinks she’d move to fucking south Florida if Dani asked her to. 

“In the meantime,” Jamie says, we’ll make do with visits and phone calls and good memories, yeah?” Jamie gestures over at her workstation. “Speaking of which, that’s the desk that you desecrated the other day.”

“Whoa. Not fair. I didn’t tell you to get yourself off in your place of business,” Dani gives her a light shove across the table even as she flushes a deep pink.

“May as well have, if I recall,” Jamie says.

“Well, now that we’re talking memories to get us through the long haul…” Dani’s eyes trail suggestively back toward the desk and she bites her lip. “Wanna make out?”

“Fuck yes, I do.” The words are barely out before Dani’s pulling her to her feet and into a kiss in one smooth arc, then walking backwards to lean against Jamie’s desk. Dani’ hands stay all the while on either side of Jamie’s face, guiding her in deeper and deeper.

Jamie knows, even as her tongue is teasing across Dani’s lower lip between deeper thrusts, that she will indeed return in her mind to those words – Wanna make out? – in Dani’s voice, over and over. It’s a familiar and much-missed side of her friend – the bit of brazen bold cleverly hidden under the proper pastel façade, this delicious secret spark that even as teenagers not many got the privilege of seeing, but Jamie had, and Jamie is.

She’s half-lost in Dani’s teeth pulling on her lip, Dani’s nails scratching lightly under her curls, Dani’s body pushing up off Jamie’s desk and into her own. And at the same time, the other half of Jamie’s mind is roaming a revised history, imagining that even a few, even one of the times that as a reckless high schooler she’d snuck kisses, snuck touches, pushed right up to the boundary of what was acceptable in a place that absolutely wasn’t, had been with Dani, with this side of Dani. But it doesn’t make her sad now, doesn’t make her bitter. It almost feels true, in fact, with so much and so little contact between them now, that they’ve been doing this dance for years instead of days.

When Dani’s breathing rises to a whimper, and Jamie moans softly into the shell of her ear in response, fingers tugging more and more insistently on the beltloops of Dani’s jeans, Dani pushes her back gently.

And while the hunger in Dani’s voice and the wanton lust in Dani’s eyes make Jamie pant with anticipation, the phrase Dani utters – another for the permanent memory collection – sends a jolt through her for an entirely different reason: “Let’s get you home.”

Chapter Text

Jamie Taylor is a very responsible driver – always signals her turns and lane changes, merges respectfully, follows the speed limit – or at least the universally agreed-upon 9 MPH over, not a bit more. Still, with the wintry afternoon sun already beginning to sink behind its sheer of clouds, and with Dani’s hand taking liberties with the zipper on her jeans, Dani herself leaning close across the bench seat giggling and sighing in Jamie’s ear, well, she does her best, but the cornfields and siloes fly past a little more swiftly than usual.

She indulges in just one deep kiss as she’s killing the engine – turns  to catch Dani’s lips, right there at her cheek the whole time, driving her crazy – then dives out of the truck and toward the house. When they get through the front door, Jamie follows the plan she’s been building with what little of her brain was functional on the drive: she beelines for the kitchen, grabs two glasses and fills them with cold water, and saunters to the bedroom, beckoning for Dani to follow. This last is unnecessary, because not only is Dani two steps behind, she’s also already started undressing herself – a quick glance back shows a trail of clothes from the front door to the hall that simultaneously makes Jamie laugh and jellies the muscles in her legs.

Dani is tugging her last full layer – a ribbed tank top in a pale pink barely distinguishable from her skintone – over her head while Jamie places the water on the nightstand and attends to her own socks, jeans, sweatshirt, and underlayers in short order, her eagerness to be pressed together naked as soon as possible matching Dani’s. She catches up to Dani’s underwear-and-bra status quickly and pulls her in, figures they can help each other out of these last barriers soon enough.

When they meet, Jamie thinks that it’s not like you’d think of kissing – where two people’s mouths are connected, obviously, and they touch each other with their hands, but still stand apart somehow – no, she and Dani meld into one another. She feels at once the press of Dani’s breasts, Dani’s stomach, Dani’s thighs against her own as she wraps her arms around Dani’s back in a tight hug – hold you here with me – and sinks into Dani’s skin, Dani’s scent, Dani’s hard kiss.

After a few strokes of Dani’s tongue make Jamie painfully aware that she’s still wearing her boyshorts – she can feel how wet she’s getting against the fabric already, Christ – she pulls back and stares at Dani for a moment, lifting her head just a tad to account for the almost imperceptible height difference, stares into darkened, mischievous eyes. Jamie feels herself smirking back as she closes the distance between them again, puts her hands on Dani’s shoulders and pushes, a little less gentle than she would have yesterday, so that she falls back onto the bed.

Dani lands laughing – is there a sexier sound? – and reaches up for Jamie’s hands, beckoning her to follow. The gesture is unnecessary, as she’s already stepping into the space between Dani’s legs dangling off the end of the bed, but Jamie takes the proffered hands anyway, leans part of her weight into them as she sinks one knee onto the mattress between Dani’s thighs then climbs up her body. She runs her thumb along Dani’s bottom lip, memorizing its softness, its give, its heat, shuddering when Dani nips the tip of her nail into her mouth, sucks, swirls her tongue around the pad of her thumbprint.

Jamie rests her head on Dani’s chest for a moment, recovering from that, before she nudges Dani higher up the bed with her thigh, then runs her fingers slowly down the divot between her collarbones, . She’s regained control of the situation now, she can see – just what she wanted – Dani’s arching up and into her touches, but not trying to steer anymore, no, she’s letting herself be touched. And right now, that’s just what Jamie wants, because she’s decided to give Dani as much as she can, as much as she can handle, as much as she’ll accept.

So, it’s slowly, slowly, that Jamie ruffles her fingers up and under the edge of Dani’s lace bra where it patterns her ribcage, pushes one cup, then another off of her breasts and leans to circle each nipple with her lips before removing the thing entirely. It’s slow as melting ice that she drags her lips across Dani’s hipbones and below her navel, that she grips and releases handfuls of thigh, dances her fingernails across the front of Dani’s underwear. It’s minutes, long minutes, until she stops touching Dani long enough to hook her index finger into the silky black article – clearly a choice made intentionally, Jamie smiles to herself – and worry it down off Dani’s hips, pulling it off of insistent kicking feet, tossing it wantonly off the end of the bed.

When she resettles along Dani’s side, she takes a breath to marvel at Dani’s fully naked body – miraculous and strong, warm and buzzing with an excited, expectant energy coming off it in waves – a body that Jamie somehow simultaneously knows oh so well and not at all completely enough yet. No matter the flight tomorrow, she thinks, no matter the distance or the heart-stopping brick wall she feels herself smack into when she thinks about Monday, this right here is worth any and all of it, a hundred times over.

Dani’s grown impatient in this space of time, reaches up and buries her hands into Jamie’s hair, pulling her down, urging her to continue. She’s happy to oblige, leans into Dani’s hungry kiss as she teases her hand down and over her thighs, begins tracing a track that takes her close but stays just out of contact with her center. On each near miss, Dani’s breath hitches; on each near miss, Jamie is more and more aware of the heat that’s building, just out of reach, can practically feel already how ready and slick she’ll find Dani when she finally – “Please, Jamie” – gives in and slides one finger inside.    

Then – even though she’s right, even though she knew Dani would be as wet as she’s ever felt her, still, still it’s a surprise that makes Jamie gasp, how effortlessly she’s deep inside Dani, how little friction there is, how necessary it is after only two strokes to add her middle finger to her first, twist and scissor them inside to make a dent in Dani’s arching search for relief.

And Dani keeps arching, pushes herself up so hard and so far that Jamie rolls back over on top of her just so she can set a rhythm. Dani responds by bringing one leg up and over Jamie’s waist and fuck – the way she looks is nearly blinding – her face painted with desire, the muscles of her arms, her stomach as she’s moving, wanting, a little desperate even, but eager to comply with Jamie’s motions.

“Oh, fuck Jamie, yes, yes, there, fuck, yes,” Dani babbles out, her brow scrunched in delicious concentration, chasing what she wants. Jamie doesn’t try to slow her down, not this time. In fact, as soon as Dani gives her the first pleading look, Jamie tilts her hand so that her thumb affords some pressure to Dani’s clit, watches and feels the immediate effect, in the pulse around her fingers, in the way Dani’s heel presses harder into her back.

When Dani whines, “Yes, yes, baby, please, I wanna come, make me come Jamie – ” Jamie smiles broadly, reveling in the way Dani’s telling her what she wants, thanking the gods of all nations that it’s Jamie herself that gets to fulfill these requests.

And because what Dani wants is to come, now, Jamie curls her fingers in the way she’s learned Dani likes – no, not just likes, can’t not come for – and growls along with her as she starts to shake.

“Keep coming for me baby, yeah that’s it, keep going,” Jamie pants, fluttering her fingers gently to coax the orgasm longer. Dani shudders another couple of times, then relaxes back onto the bed, but still, Jamie doesn’t move, because she can tell from the way Dani’s pelvis is still rocking even as her breathing slows, that this one rather shallow orgasm isn’t going to satisfy her, and this fact pleases Jamie to no end.

“You’re not done,” she says, low and dirty, and begins moving her hand again, small movements with outsized effects on Dani, who moans into the motion, but doesn’t argue, but nods breathlessly, grabs at Jamie’s bare shoulders with her hands, braces herself for more. Jamie wets her lips and shakes her head – how the fuck did I get so lucky? – and slowly rebuilds her momentum, delighting in the aftershocks this brings forth.

Though she wouldn’t’ve thought it possible, she watches every move Dani makes, every reaction Dani gives her, even more carefully than before – the way Dani nips at the air with her teeth; the way she breathes in time with the rolls of her body, which flow from her shoulders all the way down to her pelvis; the way the pitch of her moans and cries varies across the arc of her buildup.

And Jamie feels her own heartrate soar again with admiration and her own core flood with desire – looking at Dani’s face, flushed and shining, her mouth, drinking air in gulps like she’s swimming, and somehow, even though she’s all over Dani already, wants to be more so – wants to be bitten by those teeth, lashed by that tongue, worked by those hands.

When Dani’s tightening again, her breath quickening as she pants out: “Oh fuck, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna come again, fuck, you’re gonna make me come again,” Jamie answers, “Yeah I am,” and leans down and slips her tongue into Dani’s mouth for just a second before Dani falls apart a second time, moaning out Jamie’s name as she finishes. This time, Jamie does bring out her fingers – dripping and sticky in a way that makes her mind flood in a brilliant, atomic brightness – before she slides down the bed, down Dani’s body, eager to replace hand with mouth.

“Wh- What are you doing?” Dani half-laughs the words, and Jamie pauses in place, stills her hands on the insides of Dani’s thighs where she’d been about to part them to make room for herself.

“Can I keep going? I want…I want to taste you. And I think you’ve got more.” She says this last through hooded eyes, because she’s nearly certain she’s right: Dani’s on the precipice of done-for-now and go-for-hours, and Jamie wants desperately to tip her toward the latter.

Dani looks unsure for a moment, so Jamie climbs back up her body, still on top but with minimal contact, to look her in her eyes. She sweeps Dani’s hair from where it’s stuck to her forehead, leans down and kisses her brow, her cheek, the corner of her mouth, before escalating to a flick of her tongue along her jawline, a fast nip and suck on her earlobe.

“I heard a terrible rumor,” she whispers hotly into the shell of Dani’s ear, “that we might not have much time for this in the near future. Need to get my fix.” Dani’s eyes widen, and she gasps, but doesn’t argue as Jamie slowly grinds down into her.

“But what about you?” Dani says, even as she’s rolling up to meet her, even as she’s wrapping her hands around Jamie’s hips and guiding her into a better position with better, more direct contact with her own clit.

“Don’t you worry about me,” Jamie says, “I’m enjoying myself very much at the moment. See?” She balances herself on one hand, and, still rocking lightly, finds Dani’s hand and guides it down and into her shorts, lifts her body an inch so Dani can feel how ludicrously wet she is.

“Fuck, uhh, Jamie, I – ”

“All you, baby. All you,” Jamie says, pulling Dani’s hand back out of her underwear – she can’t let herself get distracted, not yet. “Now, can I please lick you?” She kisses Dani’s fingers clean as she asks, making sure to flick her tongue in between them more than is strictly necessary.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. Please.” Dani smiles a little guiltily at the last, which is what tells Jamie it really is okay for her to eagerly bounce back down the bed and settle her body between Dani’s spread legs.

While she’s arranging herself – propping up on her elbows, sliding her arms under Dani’s thighs and resting her hands on her abdomen – she pauses for a beat to look up at Dani. Her flushed chest is rising and falling with rapid breaths, and Jamie muses that there’s no way of telling whether that’s in response to the last few minutes or in anticipation of what’s to come, and it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that from this vantage point, Jamie can see the arousal she’d before only felt, and she bites her lip, taking it in.

“Fuck, you’re gorgeous,” she mutters, and stares for a few more seconds before leaning down to kiss swollen, slick skin. She grins into the taste, hums into the feeling of having her lips, tongue, whole mouth full of Dani.

She takes her time, licks slow circles through thick heat, knowing that regardless of her pace, she’s going to have Dani squirming underneath her tongue in minutes. As it is, Dani’s already palming her own breasts while rocking up and into Jamie’s mouth in a way that’s so wantonly lusty Jamie can hardly concentrate. To make it easier on both of them, she drops all pretense of pacing, lowers her body and thrusts her tongue inside Dani as hard and far as she can. Jamie feels as much as she hears the moan that Dani releases in response, and grips Dani’s thighs with both hands to give her the leverage to repeat the motion again and again.

“Ah, ah, ah, fuck Jamie! Augh, fuck, fuck, yes!” Jamie will never, get tired of the way Dani strings together her name with obscenities and raw animal noises, nope not ever. She’ll also never be done looking for more ways to lap and curl her tongue inside Dani, exploring every part of her she can reach, and she will definitely never be over the way Dani winds her fingers in her hair and holds her – not overly roughly, but firm enough that Jamie gets the message – in place while she thrusts herself up against Jamie’s tongue.

While Dani’s doing just this, Jamie works one of her hands up and finds Dani’s clit, circles it firmly with two fingers. Once, twice, three times and Dani’s chanting loses all its consonants, from what Jamie can hear, anyway, with Dani’s thighs clamped against her ears. Jamie keeps her mouth in place as long as she can before she needs to breathe, then replaces her tongue with two fingers as Dani gasps.

“Fuck me,” comes the low, husky command from overhead – and Jamie is actually caught off guard, expected Dani would want a break to catch her breath, or might need to be convinced again that Jamie was having as good a time as she is. But what she says is “Fuck me hard,” and Jamie doesn’t need to be told again. Still panting herself, she sets a fast pace, curses when Dani responds immediately, riding her hand toward another wave that’s coming hard and fast. Just because she’s there and she can, Jamie wraps her lips around her clit and sucks lightly as Dani screams – a rip of sound – and clenches around Jamie so hard it makes her fingers cross.  

“Oh fuck baby, yes, fuck that’s hot, that’s so good baby, ride it out.” Jamie realizes that she’s babbling as much as Dani had been a moment ago, that she’s grinding down into the mattress, that the ache she’s worked to ignore thus far has bypassed insistence and gone into something like desperation. Dani’s still rippling, pulsing, and this just makes her twitch harder, and Dani needs to know what she’s doing to her, she deserves to hear: “Fuck, baby, I’m gonna come from fucking you.”

And she intends to, just like that, is about to slip a hand down between her body and the bed to finish herself off, it won’t take much, when Dani’s head jerks up from where it had been lolling dazedly. “Let me feel, please, let me touch you,” and before Jamie can say or think another thing, Dani’s sitting up, grabbing Jamie by the shoulders, hauling her up the bed. Jamie follows, complies – because duh – and finds herself pulled into Dani’s lap.

Dani wastes no time, slides her right hand under the edge of Jamie’s boyshorts where they cling to the top of her thigh, then palms around and down to get where she’s needed. Impatient fingers push the soaked crotch of the underwear aside and fill Jamie – two, three, she’s not sure, she’s so wet – but it’s perfect. She growls in relief and wraps her legs around Dani’s body to hold herself in place, ride Dani’s hand like she needs to.

She wants to kiss her but she’s too close, too needy, so she leans forward and rests her forehead against Dani’s shoulder. From there, she can watch Dani’s wrist working where it disappears into her shorts, and that, plus the feel of Dani’s hot whimpers along the side of her face, the way Dani says into the skin of her shoulder, “Oh fuck, fuck baby you feel good, fuck I wanna feel you come,” and Jamie does just what she’s asked, hard and fast around Dani’s knuckles as she collapses into her arms.

When she can move again – which is either a few short seconds or a few long minutes later, who can tell – she only has to tilt her head back a few inches to meet Dani’s mouth where it’s been waiting. Dani returns her soft kisses before breaking away to suck her own fingers clean in one motion, returning right away with Jamie on her tongue. Jamie kisses her back harder, feels arousal building all over again, but breaks to rest for another moment with her forehead against Dani’s. 

“God, that was amazing,” Dani says, running her palms up and down Jamie’s bare arms, down across her collarbones, lightly cupping her breasts all while keeping their heads pressed together.

“Oh, we’re not done. Least, I’m not done with you,” Jamie smirks across the short distance, bumps her nose against Dani’s playfully. “But first, time for a water break.” She leans over and goes to grab the two glasses off the nightstand, loses her balance just a bit – maybe from her positioning, still propped on Dani’s thighs, or maybe the haze of being in the middle of an afternoon sex marathon – and tumbles down onto the bed. Dani tries to catch her, grasps at her ribcage, but fumbles the save and falls alongside Jamie, and they both end up laughing hysterically, a pile of intertwined limbs.

From her vantage point, viewing Dani through a tangle of her own messy hair, Jamie has to bite her tongue for what feels like approximately the fourteenth time that day. Intellectually, she understands that orgasms release hormones, and that hormones make feelings, or make feelings stronger. Her rational brain understands that she’s been with Dani for what? Three days, four? And that that’s definitively not enough time for broad declarations, even making allowances for history. So she keeps quiet, fills her need with a soft smile, a thumb smoothing across Dani’s eyebrow, circling to her cheekbone and down her nose, the divot in the middle of her top lip.

When Jamie at last hauls herself up to complete her original hydration mission, she passes one glass with no-longer-cold-but-hey-it’s-winter water to Dani and brings the other to her own parched mouth, reveling in the particular gift of a long drink after sex. She downs half the glass in three long gulps, is coaching herself to take it slower, when she feels Dani’s hand cup around her knee where it’s bent on the bed.

And damn if the girl isn’t simultaneously working through her own glass while also pulling Jamie’s calf so that her legs open toward Dani. She lowers her glass, gazes over at Dani in the fading light of late afternoon sifting through the heavy air of the bedroom. Dani’s watching her back with what can only be called bedroom eyes – lashes laid low, pupils wide, a hint of a smile playing at the corners that Jamie interprets as Cute that you thought you were the only one that came in here with plans.   

What Dani says out loud, though, is, “You ready? ‘Cause I am.” And without waiting for an answer, she leans forward to replace her glass on the nightstand, and on her way back catches Jamie around the waist and pulls her in for a kiss. Her lips and tongue are cool and fresh from the water, which contrasts deliciously with the sloppy heat driving her forward and into Jamie’s body. Jamie responds with a whimper, opens her mouth to let Dani’s tongue stroke deeper, and tosses her glass in the general direction of off the bed – it’s a pint glass from a local bar, those things are indestructible, and who the fuck cares anyway when Dani’s sucking her lower lip into her mouth while unclasping her bra, then thumbing her nipple with one hand while stroking the other over Jamie’s abdomen, tracing her hipbones, working her way, not at all slowly, back down her body.

“These need to go too,” Dani says directly into Jamie’s mouth, jerking at the waistband of Jamie’s shorts roughly. In no position to argue, Jamie shucks them down and tosses them off the bed, is back to facing Dani properly naked in seconds, which is still apparently too long for Dani, who’s stroking and squeezing her own thighs, working them wider as she scoots closer in.

Jamie pushes forward to meet her, as open and ready as she’s ever been. When Dani traces circles along her center, teasing but with a pressure that tells her she won’t wait long, Jamie frees one of her own hands from where it’s been wound in Dani’s hair, pulling her head back to skim her neck with her teeth. She works to fit her arm into the space between them, to spread Dani’s lips open, and is thrilled that her fingertip finds a renewed pool of wetness waiting there. Likewise, when Dani matches her, pushes her own finger into Jamie and she thrusts her hips forward, she lands in a palm that’s coated and slick already.

They’re both starting halfway to the finish line, so keeping penetration to one finger results in delirious teasing that nonetheless has Jamie bucking and close in no time. Dani, too, is riding Jamie’s middle finger with wanton determination, whining in time with the rolling of her body’s increasing intensity, steadied by her free hand’s white knuckle grip around Jamie’s bicep. 

In the dusk that’s fallen over the room, thick and tactile as a woolen blanket, Dani is rendered in stark chiaroscuro, illuminated by the sheen of sweat on her skin. Jamie watches the lines of her face dance between ecstasy, frustration, and an adorably sexy look of concentration that she’s working hard to commit to memory. She’s completely absorbed in Dani, finds herself moaning in time with her, breathing with her, tracking her movements and mirroring them even as they become erratic and desperate.

Finally, Dani’s whine breaks into a sob, and she chokes out, “Fuck, Jamie, baby, fuck I need to come now,” and before Jamie can move, Dani releases her hold on Jamie’s arm and takes her fingers to her own clit, circling furiously until she unravels around Jamie’s finger with a ragged “Ja-ay-ay-mie, fuck, uh, fuck!”

Jamie relishes the effect on her own body, feels herself tipping even before she registers that Dani’s moved her helpful hand across the short distance between them, and is giving Jamie the heel of her palm to grind into. Her clit is so sensitive, so taut, it takes only three of four pushes until she tumbles too. The release of coming into, onto, around both of Dani’s hands at once, being so held and wanted and so wholly taken, overwhelms Jamie in a way she can’t process right this second, but it’s strong and deeply satisfying, and she wants more of it.

Which is good, because Dani seems to have found a well of energy for giving Jamie just those thing: while Jamie’s still catching her breath, Dani’s pulling her in close again, fingers leaving glistening trails on Jamie’s thighs and across her back, kissing her no less eagerly than when she’d been working her up against her desk what must be hours earlier.  

She feels Dani grip the back of her head and lower her down carefully onto the bed, from which the comforter has disappeared in the fray, only the sheets remaining to welcome Jamie’s body down at last.

“I need to be on top of you,” Dani says, and Jamie hums in sheer pleasure as Dani’s thighs bracket her hips, Dani’s hands wrap around her shoulders, Dani’s wet, hot center comes to rest on her pubic bone.

“Dani, fuck,” is all Jamie can say as Dani starts to move, the muscles of her stomach and thighs working to grind their bodies together. Jamie helps, spreading her fingers wide around the curve of Dani’s hips, holding as much of her as she can as close as she can, and Dani sits up fully, grabbing at her own breasts, palming her own stomach and thighs as she circles and dips.

Jamie’s never seen Dani this reckless, this…free. In a way, it’s like she’s seeing the very essence of Dani – a magic she’s known was there all along, would get sneak peeks of, but never the whole show, there was always something (apparently a big something) held back. And yet at the same time this energy feels brand new, like it’s coalescing around them, being borne into existence in this very moment and just for her – or maybe, just maybe, because of her. It’s overwhelming in the best way, and she catches herself feeling something like tears building behind her eyes, hears something like Fuck I love her tumbling around in her blissed-out brain.

The physical effect is that she cants her hips up and into Dani more insistently, strains with her whole body toward more contact, more friction, reaches up to pull Dani’s face down to lick a salty path along her jawline. As Jamie nips and sucks on Dani’s earlobe, Dani shifts to put one thigh between Jamie’s legs, slotting them together closer and more directly.

The slide of Dani’s swollen, dripping center directly over hers forces Jamie to break contact from where she’s mouthing Dani’s pulse point to let out a low growl of pleasure, makes her spread her own thighs wider, dig her heels into the mattress so she can pump her own hips up higher.

Dani is working hard on top of her, and not for nothing: each repetition pushes them closer together, builds the tantalizing nearly-but-not-quite-enough of sensation. Jamie feels almost dizzy, as though all the blood has left her head and been pulled into the supernova of heat and electricity where she and Dani are connected.

But still, the look of single-minded determination on Dani’s gorgeous face above her makes Jamie just want to tell her how fucking good she is, so she searches for the words, gasps them out: “Dani, baby, fuck, that feels so good; Fuck, you’re so good at this; Goddamn I love this; Fuck baby, uh, fuck you’re so good, Dani, fuck!”

She watches the praise land, watches Dani’s mouth twist into a smile even as she’s panting and moaning in turn. She’s getting loud again, god bless her, but only about one in five sounds she makes is an actual word, syllables and sounds spilling forth instead: “Mm, mm, mm, ah, god,” and Jamie can tell she’s getting tired. Her movements slow, then still, (though even without motion, this position is amazing), and she lets her head fall down to rest on Jamie’s chest with a heave of exhaustion.  

Jamie wonders if maybe they’re done – it’s been a good run; no, an excellent one. The best, in fact, she can remember. Ever. And yet, when Dani cranes her neck back to look at her, her brow beaded with sweat, what Jamie sees is frustration, and she just can’t have that.

So she says, stroking two fingertips down Dani’s searing back, “Mmmmm, baby. You have one more. I can tell, you need one more.”

Dani makes a garbled sound, then “No, no I don’t think…”

Jamie waits, makes all the teasing fall away from her face until permission is granted, or not. Then lets it climb right back up as Dani breaks, admits, breathless and shaking her head like she’s shocked but pleased with herself, “Yeah, actually, think I can. But I think I only can if you lick me again.” And Jamie’s heart, pounding as it is, nearly stops entirely when Dani adds, “– and let me…lick you too? Like, at the same time?”

“Shit,” is the eloquent answer Jamie comes up with, and has to hastily add “Yeah, yeah baby, whatever you want, um, that would be great,” to clarify her response.

“Are you sure?” Dani says, uncertain, “because it was just an idea, if you don’t want – ”  

“No,” Jamie cuts her off, “I’m very fuckin’ sure. C’mere, turn around.” And she uses her hands on either side of Dani’s ribcage to urge her into the requisite one eighty turn, nudges her into position in a way that she hopes conveys just how excited she is for this. The semi-darkness now shrouding the room makes each touch somehow feel more – the warm weight of Dani’s breasts brushing against her abdomen, the delicious tickle of Dani’s hair as she arranges it over one shoulder, out of the way, causing it to cascade down onto Jamie’s thigh.

Jamie finds her way more than half by touch as well: after guiding one of Dani’s knees up and over her head, she uses the whole of both hands she spreads Dani’s thighs wider, pulls her down toward her mouth, then uses her thumbs to open her lips. She sighs warm breath into Dani’s core, but no more: she wants to let Dani make full contact first since she took the reins on this one.

She doesn’t have to wait long. There’s the tentative tip of a tongue once, then the flat of it against her sensitive skin, and she keens into the welcome sensation, wills herself to keep still, at least for now, not to buck directly into Dani’s mouth while she’s only just warming up.

Instead, she turns her attention to her own work, places her open mouth gently to Dani’s core while humming in pleasure, knowing the rumbles will echo maddeningly up into her body, stoking rather than curing the craving. From there, she builds her movements slowly, giving lazy meandering licks at first, relishing the taste and feel of Dani on her tongue once again, before working into a discernable pattern of broad strokes with the goal of touching as much of her as she can but stopping short of her clit, knowing it’s probably far too sensitive already. The motion of her head required by this venture sets a rhythm for the both of them without her really meaning to, and the way Dani falls into the undulation with her, seamless and smooth, only pushes Jamie deeper into Dani, deeper into her own ecstatic pleasure.

As good as this rhythm is – for both of them apparently, judging from the way Dani’s added a gentle thrust of her pelvis on each beat, pushing herself further down onto Jamie’s mouth – they can only sustain it so long at this point. There’s a small corner of Jamie’s mind that mourns this fact, knows that she could do this for hours and wishes they’d started instead of ended here. But that part is quickly silenced by a change in Dani’s movements – breaking the established tempo entirely to bury her face into Jamie, alternately sucking and lapping and just Christ, fucking making out with her.

It’s getting harder and harder not to give in and ride Dani’s face, harder and harder to concentrate on her own ministrations, but she doubles down, tightens her hold on Dani’s hips, teases her tongue up to slip sloppy circles around her clit, hard and straining. A sound caught between a growl and a scream comes out of Dani as Jamie’s tongue skirts closer, and she breaks contact with Jamie – a terrible, gaping, arctic loss, momentary as it is –to rasp out, “Inside. Too. Please.”

The reach is awkward but doable: Jamie refuses to block her own ability to keep tasting Dani, so she works her right arm out from under Dani’s body and finds a wild angle from which she can both fuck Dani with two fingers and maintain her tongue work on her clit. The reward is worth it. Dani whines as Jamie fills her, moans as Jamie starts to piston inside her. Jamie wraps her other arm around Dani’s waist, finds that somehow lacking, reaches up and grips her shoulder blade instead, pushes her down closer to where she’s still licking, sloppy and disorganized now but so so good for the unpredictability of it.

Jamie’s forearm is burning, her jaw is aching, and she loves every pang, every twinge, hopes with all her might she winds up full-body sore as hell and it lasts for days, the memory made physical, etched into her muscles long enough that she’ll believe all this actually happened.

When Jamie finally circles Dani’s clit with pursed lips, sucks ever so slightly, Dani’s mouth flies off her again to scream Jamie’s name wildly, first into the air then down into the mattress, muffling herself as she shrieks into a final orgasm so strong it wracks her entire body, curls her tighter onto Jamie, arches her back up and makes her hands grab and clasp around Jamie’s ankles.

As the ripples fade, and Jamie slowly withdraws her fingers, places a kiss there after she does, Dani smiles once into Jamie’s inner thigh where her head has come to rest – and fuck, if this comparatively innocent brush of her teeth there doesn’t do something to Jamie damn near rivaling the brush of her tongue elsewhere. Just everything this woman does is sexy as hell and –

“Come in my mouth, Jamie,” Dani says just before she lifts herself onto her elbows again and replaces her tongue next to Jamie’s clit. Fuck. Yep, every single thing.

With her mouth free to babble out sounds and curses and most of all, Dani’s goddamn perfect, sexy name; with her hands free to roam across Dani’s back, shoulders, and neck; with her mind cleared of anything but the chase of one final release, Jamie doesn’t have to chase long. Her head drives back into the mattress and her back arches and her hands clench as she does exactly what Dani told her and comes apart into Dani’s open lips, which stay locked in place, taking all Jamie has to give through her convulsions and aftershocks, until she finally goes boneless.

Dani rolls sideways off Jamie, then spins herself – with some effort – so that they can collapse face-to-face. They’re both breathing so heavily still that it’s hard to kiss, but they try anyway, lips swollen and smeared. Jamie finds she can’t lift her head, she’s so spent, and closes her eyes as the sweat begins to dry on her finally-cooling skin.

“That was…Fuck, what was that, seven? Eight?” Dani says, her voice bleary with exhaustion but Jamie can hear a lazy smile behind the words.

“Mmm, could be. I lost count at five,” Jamie says with a grin. “Not counting mine.”

Dani’s flops backward as she laughs, laying prone on the rumpled sheets. Jamie curls into her, needing the contact still. She imagines how they’d look from above right now: a salty, sticky mess of drowsy satiation. She wonders loosely if Dani’s left any marks on her – how she’d cherish a bruise on her inner thigh next week, treasure the evidence of a nip on her shoulder – before she realizes that she’s covered in Dani already regardless: her thighs are streaked with her, fingerprints of her pattern her back and biceps, stripes of her mark her abdomen and mouth.

Her eyes close of their own accord as Dani fishes for the ruined sheet and brings it over both of them, imagines it’s sealing in the evidence like a tattoo, closes her eyes and lets herself be held, still and silent for a while.

-

Once again, Jamie again has her bodily needs to thank for not letting her sleep through the rest of the day and all the way into tomorrow. She’s just about to drowse off, is incredibly comfortable wrapped in Dani’s arms under the rumpled sheet, is internally negotiating a groggy and entirely false I’ll wake up in just a few minutes promise, when her stomach growls obscenely. It jolts her fully awake, sits her up, makes her eyes sweep magnetically, horrified, to her alarm clock: 6:37 pm. They’ve been in bed over four hours. It’s fully dark out, and Jamie realizes she can only see because a slice of golden light is spilling across the floor from the bathroom.

She looks down at Dani, fully asleep, slow breaths fluffing up a piece of her furiously disheveled hair on each exhale. She hates to wake her up, would like nothing more than to curl behind her, skin on warm skin again, and sleep together, wake together, relive days like today together, over and over.

But that’s not her reality right now. No, her reality right now is a ticking clock, is a brave, beautiful blonde who will be terrifyingly furious if she doesn’t wake her up as soon as possible, is a last dinner and a last night to make the most of. So she leans down, brushes the wayward lock off Dani’s face, and presses a long, soft kiss to her cheek, still flushed hot in her sleep.

Dani, too, wakes with a start, whips her head around to find Jamie’s eyes, flails automatically for her phone.

“Did I? Oh fuck, I fell asleep again,” she wails.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s just dinner time,” Jamie soothes. “I didn’t wanna wake you up but – ”

“Oh my god, Jamie, of course,” Dani says, affronted. “I’d have killed you if you’d let me sleep.”

“That’s what I thought,” Jamie says, tucking another errant strand of hair behind Dani’s ear and leaning in to brush their lips together. “C’mon, let’s order some food. I’m starving, so I know you must be.” She smirks, gives Dani an obvious up-and-down look, is rewarded with a naughty, silly tongue-bite grin in return as Dani nods her head.

They decide on pizza – it’s easy, it’s fast, it’s minimal interaction with the outside world. Most importantly, it’s carbs and cheese. And pepperoni, pineapple, and mushroom, the latter of which is a recent addition to their old mutual favorite by Jamie, who convinces Dani to just give it a try.

They eat, as they did their first evening in Jamie’s house, at their old respective sides of the couch, legs intertwined under a blanket. But this time Dani keeps sliding her hand underneath to circle Jamie’s ankle with her fingers, grip her thigh, have any contact that’s available at all. Jamie’s the same, keeps leaning forward to brush her fingers tenderly across Dani’s shoulder where the ripped collar of her oversized t-shirt falls off, to hold onto Dani’s wrist while she tells a story.

Despite a well-earned hunger, neither is able to eat much; Jamie’s not sure she’s tasted a bite of her pizza. After a couple slices each gnawed doggedly down to the crusts, they give up by mutual agreement, toss greasy napkins into the box and push it to the far side of the coffee table. Dani pulls Jamie into her lap and wraps her arms around her middle in a tight hug, buries her face in Jamie’s shoulder, and sighs.

“I’m gonna miss you so much,” Dani says into Jamie’s neck, and the way she turns the ms of I’m and miss and much into kisses, the way her voice wavers, the way she says it like she’s lost for what to do next, just breaks Jamie in two.

“I know, me too.” Jamie says – because what else is there to say? What else can she do but wrap her hand tighter around Dani’s and worry her bottom lip between her teeth as the bliss of the afternoon fades ever more quickly away?

But then, she releases her lip, releases the crease in her eyebrows, (does not release Dani’s hand) and says out loud as she’s realizing it: “You know, we won’t get to see each other for a while.”

“Um, yeah, I do know that,” Dani looks at her quizzically, and Jamie realizes that she’s just said something that’s quite literally painfully obvious.

“No, I mean, we won’t get to see each other for a while, but we could go ahead and figure out when we can see each other again,” she explains. “Honestly, I think I’d feel a hell of a lot better kissing you goodbye tomorrow if I knew when I’d get to kiss you hello again.” She feels like a romantic sod the moment the words are out, but it’s hard to be regretful of them when they’ve made Dani smile her big, warm, petals-opening-to-the-sun smile, made her say “Yes. Absolutely. Let’s do it.”

“Yeah? Okay, excellent, because you know, I’ve been meaning to get out to LA,” Jamie says, grinning at the way Dani’s eyes are glistening, at the twitch in Dani’s cheek that says she’s holding back tears.

“Really?” Dani says. “You’d – you’d come to me?”

“Seems only fair,” Jamie says, “Seeing as how you’ve come to me this time.” Dani rolls her eyes, but her smile stays wide.

“Okay. If you’re sure, yeah, that would be good, because I don’t get another break for a little while. I mean, I get short ones – long weekends, but not really enough to come all the way – ” She cuts herself off, glances nervously at Jamie like maybe she’s said something she shouldn’t’ve.

“’S okay, babe. I know how you feel about coming home,” Jamie says, patting her thigh. “I think it’s fair to say you’ve put in your Davenport time for the season at least.” Dani nods, and her smile starts to rebuild.

“Okay, so then, when are these long weekends? When should I come?” Jamie’s getting genuinely excited now, is already picturing herself stepping off a plane and into bright California sunshine, wrapping her arms around Dani in the middle of crowded LAX, holding Dani’s hand as she shows her the sights.

“Lemme get my phone – for the calendar,” Dani says, and it seems her excitement is growing along with Jamie’s. She springs up and runs back to the bedroom, is back in seconds, phone in hand and eyes wide, murmuring “Holy shit.”

“Everything okay?” Jamie asks, leaning forward with concern.

“Oh, yeah, um, I just have a lot of notifications,” Dani says. “Like, a lot a lot.” She plunks back down on the couch, so close to Jamie their thighs touch, and angles the phone her way.

“Damn,” says Jamie, eyeing the long list of missed calls and texts stacked on the lock screen. “Did somebody die? Who’re they from?”

Dani takes the phone back, scrolls. “Oh, no, everything’s fine. About ten of them are guilt texts from my mom. Missed you at dinner with the O’Mara’s tonight; Can’t believe you left all this bread in the house, you know I hate being tempted; you know the sort.” Jamie rolls her eyes, nods. That fucking woman.

“I’ve got a few leftover from Christmas night – oh, there’s a call from Judy. Ugh, I’ll have to get her back next week.” She frowns, keeps scrolling. Jamie runs her hand over Dani’s thigh, stays quiet.

“Oh! Ha!” Dani barks out a laugh, scrolls a bit more, then giggles so hard she nearly collapses – and launches her body away from Jamie, not into her as is her strong preference.

“What?” Jamie asks. “What’s so funny? Let’s see then.”

“Noooooo,” Dani protests, and pulls the phone to her chest. Jamie pounces, grabs for the phone, is blocked by Dani’s knee pulled up protectively.

“What!?” Jamie whines. “C’mon, this is mean! Secrets, secrets, are no fun!” She twists her voice higher, reciting the old rhyme. “Secrets sometimes – ” she places a well-aimed flick onto the back of Dani’s thigh that’s blocking her from making another grab – “hurt someone.”   

“Jamie Taylor, did you just flick me?!” Dani shrieks through continued laughter.

“Sure did, Clayton, and I’ll do it again if you don’t tell me what’s so goddamn hilarious,” Jamie attempts to arrange her face into a stern expression, knows she’s probably failing, but damn if she doesn’t want to know what Dani doesn’t want to show her.

“C’mon. I’ll do anything.” So much for stern.

“Anything?” Dani waves the phone just out of her reach, smirks back at her. “Like…” She pantomimes thinking hard, sticks her tongue in the corner of her mouth and looks to the ceiling. “Like, would you promise to FaceTime with me at least three times a week?”

“I would definitely promise that,” Jamie says. Easy. Dani’s never been a very good bargainer.

“Would you…” Oh, there’s more. “Would you send me pictures every time you wear those boxers you had on yesterday?”

Jamie chuckles – this is getting good now. “Oh, those old things? Sure, baby, I can promise that, if you’ll promise me the same every time you wear those black underwear I took off you earlier.”

Now it’s Dani’s turn to laugh. “Hey! I’m the one making demands here. But I can probably manage that. Though, you should know, those are special occasions only,” and she winks, poorly but adorably. 

“Okay, so do we have a deal?” Jamie redirects, still wants to know what’s cracking Dani up so much, craning her neck to see if she can catch a glimpse of the screen.

“Almost. You said anything, and I have one more condition.” She takes both of Jamie’s hands in hers, phone tucked maddeningly behind her for the moment, and looks at Jamie with such serious eyes that Jamie honestly doesn’t know if she’s about to propose marriage or make her promise some very specific sex act will take place over video chat. (She’d say yes to either, she thinks, regardless of whatever silly reward is waiting for her on Dani’s phone.)

“Will you also fly across the country in a few weeks and bring me a dozen of your mom’s buckeyes when you come?”  

“Baby,” Jamie says through building snickers, “I said anything, and I meant it. I will do this thing for you, because you deserve nothing but Iowa’s finest sweets. I will also feed them to you with my own hands.” Dani gives an exaggerated lusty flutter of her eyelashes and fans herself.

“Now. Show me what I’ve just sold my soul and my mother’s home cooking for,” Jamie demands.

“Fine. It’s Kristin,” Dani says as she fishes the phone out from behind her and keys in the lock code.

“Ah, the Kristin who’s been taking you out dancing every other night,” Jamie says, and only a smidge of the jealousy that lines the words is real. Only a little, but she still says, as she pulls Dani – and the phone – closer, one palm to Dani’s stomach and one to her back, “The Kristin that I need to have a serious talk with, I think, if she’s gonna be getting you drunk and – ”

Dani shuts her up with a look that says You’re being ridiculous and I love it. “Oh, I think she’s on your side here. Look at this, Jamie!”

She thumbs over to WhatsApp where sure enough, the number inside the tiny red circle reads 27 unread messages. Dani starts scrolling through them slowly and Jamie can see that she’s right, Kristin is very invested in Dani, but not in a way she needs to worry about – the girl is apparently already the biggest fan of their – relationship? (Do they have a relationship? Yes, she thinks.)

 

[Kristin]

[Yesterday]

1:02 pm

HEY GIRL HEY

Merry Christmas!!!

Did you get a VERY NICE PRESENT? 🎁🎁🎁

Was it in a VERY NICE BOXXX?

(A gif of Justin Timberlake gyrating from the SNL skit Dick in a Box follows.)

 

1:09 pm

How was Operation Ice Cream? 🍦

 

5:23 pm

I have no choice but to take your silence
as a GREAT THANKS YES

 

6:13 pm

You gettin someeeeeeeee

🍑💦🌈

(And here there were a series of increasingly explicit gifs: two women in 80s-looking bikinis dancing on a beach; Christina Aguilera licking her lips with the caption ME GUSTA; a topless woman letting her hair down and biting her lip that’s downright pornographic; a finger poking through the hole in a glazed donut that probably also qualifies for the label.)

 

Jamie snorts at the overload, understanding why Dani was shy about showing her at first – she’s not sure whether Kristin is this thirsty, or Dani was (she prefers to think the latter), and it is funny, but it’s also a lot. She places a kiss to Dani’s cheek with a grin and rests her head on Dani’s shoulder as she keeps reading.

 

[Today]

8:16 am

OK LOOK BITCH

I know you’re having sex off the walls over
there but a little HEY I’M ALIVE would be
like great

A little DETAIL would be even better 👀👀👀👀

I raised you better than this

SHARE

(A gif of Ru Paul in an orange and pink suit, arms waving wildly, overlaid with the caption THERE’S GOTTA BE MORE follows this last message.)

 

12:32 pm

Dani come on now dude

I know you’ve gotta come up for air
sometime 🏊🏻‍♀️

(Another chaotic series of gifs follows: a puppy sleeping in a hammock; an extreme closeup of a woman’s tongue across red stained lips, a potato with a set of waggling cartoon eyes.)

 

2:19 pm

Dani

 

6:44 pm

Dani

Ok I’m getting freaked out

Are you axe murdered or what fuck

CALL ME PLS 🙏🏼 

 

Jamie laughs and shakes her head at the over the top support – it’s clear that Kristin is not only cheering for Dani’s, ahem, sexual satisfaction, but that she is doing so genuinely. It’s a relief to know that Dani has not only a friend, not only a queer guide to her city, but also a cheerleader like this. It seems she’s in good hands – supportive, but not grabby ones – and anyway, Jamie’s going to meet her soon, so she can make absolutely sure she’s on the up and up.

“She’s um, yeah. She’s something, huh?” Jamie says. Dani nods, smiling. “Lemme see that again.” Dani angles the phone her way, and she scrolls back up. “Got to say, I’m curious as to what Operation Ice Cream refers to…” and she gives the screen a hard scroll to send the messages further up than she’d previously been shown.

“No no no no,” Dani protests, and goes to wrench the phone from her hands again. “That is NOT for you.”

“Sounds like it was for me,” Jamie teases. “What was it? Come on, I’ll never tell another soul. Hand to God.” Dani’s lips remain clamped shut. “You said you brought cookies, but I haven’t seen nor heard about any ice cream,” Jamie teases. “So what must that refer to….?” She raises her eyebrows at Dani, who’s blushing a tomato red but having to work hard to keep the corners of her lips from raising in a smile.

“Fine!” Dani bursts the word out and throws her hands up in the air. “Fine. You got me. I told her I was nervous because I wanted to, you know,” she splutters. 

“What, Dani?” Jamie widens her eyes, feigning innocence.

“You know,” Dani says, then, bless the lesbian goddess herself, rather than say the words, Dani mimes holding an ice cream cone and gives the air in front of her a long, lascivious lick.

Jamie can’t speak for the spluttering laugh that erupts, knows she must look ridiculous, but doesn’t care. She catches a mortified Dani – who’s tried to dive forward to hide her face in the couch cushions – scoops her and pulls her close, so that Dani is laid across her lap looking up at her. She’s blushing all the way to the roots of her hair and Jamie has never seen anyone look prettier. Still grasping Dani tight around the shoulders, she leans down and kisses her mouth once, because she can’t not, then sticks out her own tongue and licks up the side of Dani’s face with the same earnest gusto. Dani squeals and tries to squirm away, shouting “Shut up, okay, I’m new! I didn’t know what I was doing!”

“Coulda fooled me,” Jamie says, holding her tighter.

“Yeah, thanks to Operation Ice Cream!” Dani shrieks. “So, you’re welcome!”

“Mmmm, I see. Well, in that case – ” Jamie shifts onto her knees to pin Dani beneath her on the couch – “please tell Kristin thanks from the bottom of my – ah – heart.”

Dani swats at her, wriggling and laughing, and Jamie bats away her feeble attempts while easily keeping her held roughly in place with the squeeze of her thighs. She’s grinning like an idiot, can’t miss the fact that they’re play-wresting in the same way they used to, on afternoons in Dani’s bedroom when she’d swipe Dani’s favorite gel pen and get herself tackled onto the ruffled comforter, or when they’d be eating fries in the bed of Jamie’s truck and she’d finally look over and notice that Dani had been making a face at her for god knows how long, leaving her no choice but to pounce in retaliation. Only difference was, those times would get her heart pounding with frustration, leave her flustered and keyed up, and now, she’s satisfied and spent from an entire afternoon in bed with Dani.

This realization is too good to keep to herself, so she leans down and says into Dani’s neck, “Just like old times, huh?” and Dani is, of course, on the same page immediately, replies with, “Yeah, except…” and indicates with a sweep of her eyes their current state – sex-mussed and messy, Jamie wearing a pair of sleep shorts slung low beneath Dani’s tank top that she swiped off the floor; Dani wearing nothing but underwear with her torn shirt.

“Mmmm hmmm,” Jamie hums her wholehearted agreement, and lowers herself down to cover Dani’s whole body with her own, presses her down into the couch and kisses her senseless again to make up for lost time.

-

They eventually break apart again to attend to some housekeeping. First and foremost, they plan not only their next visit – right then and there, Jamie buys tickets to LA over Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, less than a month away – but also several more following that, so that they see each other nearly once a month until summer. In addition to the weekend visits, Dani will fly back to Davenport over her spring break in early April, and they’ll leave from there together to go on a week-long road trip south through Kentucky and Tennessee, stopping at every one of Jamie’s favorite bourbon distilleries along the way and ultimately ending up in Great Smoky Mountains National Park where they’ll stay in a rustic lodge for three nights before turning homeward.  

Jamie reassures Dani several times as she’s keying in her credit card information for her flights that business is good, she has employees she can trust, her managers need to learn to step up, and anyway, it’s the off season. Dani swears that having Jamie around for a couple days on either side of a long weekend won’t interrupt her workflow, promises she’ll even go to class those days, though they both know this is a lie.

Afterward, Dani calls Kristin, and from where she’s working tidying the kitchen and arranging the break-and-bake cookies Dani brought onto a baking tray, Jamie hears snippets of assurances that she’s very much alive; yes it’s going fine; ok yeah, like, way more than fine; Kristin I’m not telling you that! She grins as she pops a cylinder of raw dough into her mouth, remembering wistfully her own gleeful half-disclosures to friends after kissing, after going on a date with, after sleeping with a girl for the first time.

When the dishes are done and the cookies – save for the two Jamie ate raw and the two she saved for Dani to do the same – are just starting to scent the room with a nostalgic warm sweetness, Jamie steps around the corner back to the living room. She pauses just out of view and leans against the wall to watch as Dani, off the phone for a few minutes now, pages through her bin of records.

She pulls one out and smiles softly to herself, flipping it over to read the song list on back. Jamie can tell what she’s picked from the patchwork cover and she smiles in kind, remembering how many times Dani had chosen that same album on lazy summer afternoons tucked away together in the air conditioned sanctuary of Jamie’s bedroom. Come to think of it, she’s holding the exact same physical record as she would’ve then, Sheryl Crow being one of Jim’s early “must-know” artists he’d included in Jamie’s musical education and one of the first albums he’d bought her to go with the player.

“Can I put this on?” Dani asks quietly without looking up, apparently having sensed Jamie’s presence at the edge of the room.

“’Course. You remember how, yeah?” Jamie grins at Dani’s earnest nod and watches her slip the record out of its sleeve and place it on the spindle. Her fingers touch each part of the turntable like it’s a priceless artifact – reverent, intentional. Jamie herself feels a distinct tenderness toward the ritual of putting a record on, and the fact that Dani approaches the task with the same solemnity makes something swell and bloom in her chest.

She steps forward as Dani positions the needle, anticipating the jaunty opening chords of Run, Baby, Run, and is caught off-guard by what issues forth instead: not the first song on the album, but the long singular tone that starts the last track.

“Dance with me.” The words hover in that ambiguous territory between question and command, and it doesn’t matter a bit, because Jamie’s already moved in close to her before the sentence is out, the side-to-side shuffle of Dani’s turn and her hands hanging limply from drooping shoulders telling Jamie all she needs to know.

As the first lyrics vibrate the air between them – Come to me now / And lay your hands over me – Jamie wraps her hands loosely around Dani’s elbows and finds her eyes, helpless, drinking in her anguished face as Sheryl croons, Even if it's a lie / Say it will be all right / And I shall believe. Dani’s bottom lip trembles, belying her chin-up determined expression. Jamie reaches up and brackets her face in her hands, rubs her thumbs back and forth over her temples, feels her own cheeks already aching with held-back tears battling her own bittersweet smile.  

At the words I'm broken in two / And I know you're onto me / That I only come home / When I'm so all alone / But I do believe… Jamie enfolding Dani more wholly still, with one hand tangled in her hair, cradling her head to her shoulder, the other arm wrapped tight as she can make it around her middle. Because Dani has come home. And maybe it took a long time, maybe it took until she was alone, but she’s here now, and Jamie’s here now, and they can just be here together, for now.

They sway gently to the soft twang of the music as the chorus swells. When Sheryl begs, Please say honestly you won't give up on me, Dani lifts her face so that they’re pressed forehead to forehead, noses touching, lips nearly so.

Dani makes it to the second iteration of Not everything is gonna be the way you think it ought to be / It seems like every time I try to make it right it all comes down on me before her first sob chokes out.  Jamie knows they’re both watching an internal highlight reel of everything that’s happened since they saw each other for the first first time ten years ago and the last first time four days ago and all the intervening chances they’d had to make it right, chances untaken – wasted, needlessly squandered – until now.

Dani lets her head fall down again while Sheryl sings, Open the door / Show me your face tonight. At the sting of Dani’s top teeth sinking into the flesh at the crook of her shoulder and neck, followed quickly by the heavy heat of strangled cries gasped directly onto her skin, Jamie looses her own silent tears. They tickle tracks down her cheeks and fall off her jawline, unhindered in their path, welcomed in fact, to the sound of I know it's true / No one heals me like you / And you hold the key…

She tips Dani’s face up to hers with two fingers to her chin, and places a tender kiss on her lips, trying to convey through her tears how much she means the promise in the lyrics: Never again / Will I turn away from you / I'm so heavy tonight / But your love is all right / And I do believe…

Jamie suddenly feels not close enough to her, slides her hands up under the back of Dani’s loose-fitting shirt, splays her hands wide over her heaving ribcage and clutches Dani into her. As the song moves into its somber repetitions of the chorus, and then just into the hopeful, but still mournful mantra, I shall believe, Jamie is battling despair.

Because no matter how well their plans are laid – and it’s not even all that well, she thinks bitterly for a moment – it’ won’t be enough. Nothing could be enough save the real thing, and the barest hardest truth is that nothing that’s happened in the past few days has felt real, because it hasn’t been real. It’s existed in the other-world of the holidays: time and work and obligations suspended; plane travel and time travel and long-diverged worlds colliding. They’ve put in some work already, no question – hell, if you’d told her a week ago that she’d even have a full conversation with Dani Clayton she’d have told you to come off it – but the genuine trials, the make-or-break Olympiad of reality, starts tomorrow. And Jamie has, not faith, no, that’s not her style, but she has a suspicion that they can survive them, but it’s going to be hell.

When the song ends, they don’t move, just hold each other, crying softly into each other’s necks, shoulders, sharing sniffly kisses from time to time. They keep swaying to the buzz of the needle skipping at the end of the record, the resultant white noise both as empty and as full as Jamie feels.

She’s tender, raw and exposed: it’s like a layer of something has been scraped away – something that had been built to be protective, but that had become restrictive, suffocating even, in its overzealous dedication to its mission, is gone now, scoured clean off. She wouldn’t have it back, not for anything, if what lies beneath it is Dani in her life in any way, but the lack of it will take some adjusting, and it will take time, and energy she doesn’t have right now.

“Come back to bed with me,” she says, and when Dani shakes her head immediately, fiercely, her teeth clamped and her spine rigid, she assures her, “We don’t have to sleep, just. Come on. Hold me?”

The request seems to be what does it, melts Dani’s stiffened shoulders, convinces her to take one step then another to follow Jamie down the hallway.

-

In bed in the dark, they try oh so very hard not to sleep, talking softly as they take off their scant clothing the better to touch and cuddle. Their tears are mostly spent, but renew themselves occasionally after a whispered I’ll see you so soon, a snuffled kiss on an equally tear-streaked cheek.

Around the fifth or sixth time Dani nods off, however, Jamie makes an executive decision that the kindest thing for both of them would be to sleep, even just a couple hours, since that’s what’s left of the night. She sets an alarm for six to minimize the loss, and settles into Dani’s arms once more. She can’t resist one last goodnight kiss, which makes Dani jerk into quasi-wakefulness and splutter an adorably bleary “I’m awake!”  

“Baby, you’re asleep,” Jamie murmurs softly, curling back into her anticipating her own sweet rest.

“Baby, you’re mine,” Dani mumbles in apparent response, and Jamie replies to the non-sequitur seamlessly: “Yeah, I am.”

She’s not sure whether or not she says the next part out loud, but that doesn’t change the truth of it: Have been for a long time now.

 

 

Chapter Text

Jamie’s eyes fly open at the first intruding tone of the alarm, and her hand shoots out, closing around the phone and swiping to silence it before the even one full repetition of the melodic chime escapes. She’d been skating just under the surface of sleep, her mind a collage of images from the past few days – Dani underneath her, above her, and best of all, beside her again – cut with nightmarish distortions of the days to come – herself alone, cold, empty.

After killing the several backup alarms she’d set as well, eyes screwed against the bright rectangle in the early morning grey, she turns her attention to Dani. Her eyelashes are fluttering lightly, disturbed by the noise and movement but not fully awake. Good. Jamie wants to do this her way.

She rolls to face Dani, who lies still curled tightly around a Jamie-shaped gap created when she dove for the phone. Leaning in close and tossing the sheet up and out of the way to enable full contact, Jamie buries her face into Dani’s naked shoulder, forms her mouth into a kiss while she nuzzles her forehead against warm skin, seeking comfort even as she’s aiming to give pleasure.

When Dani draws in a deeper breath, Jamie flickers her fingers across her abdomen, just firm enough not to tickle. She reaches all the way across Dani, pulls her in close for a beat before setting her hand roaming again. She skates fingertips down Dani’s spine, cresting over a rounded hip and following the curve of it down to brush between her thighs for a moment, one sweet tease of a moment, before flattening her whole hand back on her waist. She knows Dani’s got to be impossibly sore and sleep deprived, isn’t trying to start anything so much as reestablish vital contact with the physicality of Dani: her salty skin; the muscle that hugs her thighs, lax at the moment; the ridges of her ribcage rising and falling as she dozes.

Jamie closes the space between them, a ship come to harbor, before stilling her motions entirely.

“Mmm, morning.” Jamie can hear the smile in Dani’s voice as much as she feels the warmth of her breath on her crown, sure and so alive, so real, that it twists something in Jamie’s chest to the point of an ache. “Why’d you stop?”

“Just saying hi, baby,” Jamie says, and with sleepy eyes once again closed, she rubs her thumb in a small circle where it’s anchoring her against Dani’s shoulder blade.

“Well, then, say hi all the way,” Dani chides her, and Jamie feels Dani shift, feels fingers find her chin and tip her head back. She drifts her eyes open just in time to close them again as Dani sinks into her, soft lips melding down onto her own. She feels Dani’s fingers tangle into her hair, which must be a mess, as Dani’s tongue teases across her bottom lip, the moment balanced precariously at the juncture of softness and heat.

A low moan from Dani is the tipping point, so Jamie lets her hands resume their path, pausing along the way to grip Dani’s biceps, flexed in their own efforts to hold Jamie in close. Morning breath be damned, Jamie parts her lips a bit more and Dani takes ownership of the proffered space masterfully and immediately, licking into Jamie’s mouth with increasing fervor. When Jamie lets still-languid fingers drift in a smile across Dani’s lower abdomen, skirting the triangle of hair there, Dani jerks her body insistently forward and Jamie feels her legs part under the sheet. 

Jamie laughs quietly, “You sure you’re not too sore? Tired? We went…kinda hard last night.”

“Uh uh,” Dani says, shaking her head, a smile playing on her mouth at the memory. Though her eyes are once again lightly shut, she insists: “Not too tired. Not enough time. Not enough of you. Want more.” At the last, her mouth forms into a petulant pout, and between that and the verbal reminder of the precious few grains of sand left in their hourglass, Jamie’s done for.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she teases, sliding her hand between Dani’s legs and pushing slightly to part them a bit more. “Gonna be a long twenty-seven days without this – ” and she dips her index finger down, finding skin so silky and wet and ready that she wonders if Dani’s been turned on all night.

“Umff,” Dani groans into the touch unselfconsciously, arches her back into it, and Jamie feels her own core waken in response. Right on cue, Dani pushes her own hand between them, fingers a sloppy path along Jamie’s center as she looks for a rhythm in Jamie’s lazy morning strokes.

“Go slow with me, baby,” Jamie husks into Dani’s mouth, willing herself to remember every sensation bombarding her right now: Dani’s single finger pushing tantalizingly in and out, Dani’s breasts pressed against her own, a pocket of heat building sure as a summer storm where they touch, Dani’s body rolling and bucking to meet hers despite the instruction.

With her free hand, Jamie brushes a tangle of spun-gold blonde out of Dani’s eyes, locks her own into them. That twist of pain materializes anew in her chest – so antithetical to the pleasure building lower down – at the realization that Dani’s eyes aren’t just glazed with sleep, they’re brimming with tears. Jamie freezes in place.

“Shit, Dani, baby, do you want me to stop?”

“No, no, please just – ” and a sob breaks through Dani’s sentence, but she keeps her own hands in place and rasps out “keep going” as she leans forward to kiss Jamie with trembling lips and through gritted teeth. 

Jamie accepts the kiss but keeps still otherwise, the boundary too unclear to cross until Dani leans back, sniffs, and says, “I’m serious. Please, don’t stop. I need you, Jamie.”

With that she continues, but slower and softer even than before, not fucking Dani so much as caressing her, laying lingering kisses by the dozens across her shoulders, collarbone, breasts. She reaches between them and takes Dani by the wrist, guides her hand out from between her own legs. She brings it instead up to her face, kisses it clean and with intertwined fingers places the palm against her own cheek, where it feels somehow more intimate.

Dani’s whines of pleasure, paired perversely with the silent tears that spill down her cheeks, rend Jamie nearly in half, but she does as she’s asked, keeps up her gentle rhythm until Dani is panting and shaking against her. After she comes, sweet and soft with just one strangled whisper of Jamie’s name – Dani collapses fully into tears in Jamie’s arms.

Jamie hushes her and kisses her forehead, smooths her hair but mostly just gathers her as close as can be, letting Dani tangle their legs together and snake her arms underneath Jamie to hold her in turn.

“I’ve missed you so much, for so long. I can’t believe I have to fucking miss you again now,” Dani murmurs at last.  

“I know,” Jamie says, nuzzling her face into Dani’s hair as she runs comforting strokes down her back. “It feels cosmically fucking unfair.”

Dani sighs, and it feels like she leans more of her weight onto Jamie. “At least we’re talking now,” she laughs a small, mirthless laugh, but she’s not crying anymore, so that’s an improvement, Jamie thinks. “Still not over how much time I wasted being a pretentious asshole.”

“Shh, let’s never speak of how pretentious an asshole you’ve been ever again,” Jamie says, earning her a halfhearted swat from Dani. “And we’re doing a fair bit more than talking, I’d say –” Another swat, this one better aimed.  

“Seriously, though,” Jamie continues. “My life has improved a hundred times over this week. I know I’m gonna miss you something awful, but…I have something to look forward to now, Dani. I didn’t have that before you turned up again.”

Dani tilts her head back to catch Jamie with ice-blue eyes. “You mean it? You’re not…mad that I showed up, blew up your life, and now I’m going back?”

Jamie laughs quietly, smooths Dani’s hair. Take a moment to consider her answer, knows that the question is more important than the lightness Dani’s tried to infuse it with.

“No, not in the least. Like I’ve told you, I love my life here, but you know me, I can be complacent if I’m not careful. Could use a little blowing up from time to time, especially if it’s this variety.” She indicates Dani’s naked body with a quick upward nod of her head.

She can feel that Dani still doesn’t quite believe her. It’s in the way Dani shrinks down instead of coming up to kiss her; in the way she goes quiet rather than teasing back. But there just aren’t words, Jamie thinks, for what she wants to convey. In fact, it’s possible that only with time will the guilt and sadness of all their missed opportunities fully heal, and she imagines the sting will only get worse when they’re apart – the phantom limb of their lost friendship reawakened in a new form, made all the more pitiful by the knowledge of what they have when they’re together and the sickening distance that stands between them.

For now, she comforts Dani as she does herself – by letting the moment be, keeping quiet and still but for her right hand mapping every part of Dani she can reach, memorizing anew the arch of her light eyebrows, reacquainting herself with the constellation of freckles on her right shoulder.

After a while, Dani takes the roaming hand in her own and brings it to her mouth, kisses Jamie’s palm before giving it back to her and sliding out of bed to shuffle to the bathroom.

It’s a pity, Jamie thinks, that she can’t spend the time Dani’s up lolling in bed, dozing contentedly till she returns, or even better, working herself up with her hands so that Dani comes back to find her ready and waiting for her turn. Instead, she rolls out of bed herself and opens the shades on the high window, letting in golden light from the new sun just as Dani emerges back into the room, drawing Jamie’s gaze.

And it’s a real motherfucking goddamn pity, Jamie thinks, that Dani can’t look like this all day. Despite slightly puffy, tear-reddened eyes, Dani is a vision: sleep and sweat have left her hair unruly, with even more wave and volume than usual; the only term for it, Jamie thinks, is sex hair. Her lips are kiss-swollen and pink, settled in a sleepy half-smile still only just tinged with sadness that Jamie knows she could kiss away in an instant if only there were time. If only they didn’t have to wash the sex and salt off their skin. If only they didn’t have to don a single stitch of clothing, if only they could stay in their bubble for another week, another day, twelve more hours, two more.

Instead, they shower. Without words, Jamie offers to wash Dani’s hair for her, and spends several minutes massaging her scalp, eliciting small murmurs of pleasure. They take turns passing soaped up hands over each other’s bodies, pausing frequently to just stand, full-body hugging, in the hot spray.

Jamie takes every available opportunity to lay kisses onto Dani’s wet skin, licking water from her shoulders, the nape of her neck, her jawline. She’s pouring care into Dani’s skin like it’s palpable, adoring every part of her with every minute she has left while she reiterates last night’s promises into the steamy air.

“Call you every day.” (“You promise?” Dani pouts.)

“FaceTime three times a week.” (“At least three times,” Dani corrects.)

“Pictures every time I wear the boxers.” (“And at your discretion, no limit on that, as much as possible,” Dani clarifies with a grin.)

“We’ll get through it one day at a time.” (“One day at a time.”)

-

In a move of poetic symmetry, their last shared meal of the week comes from the same place as their first, if you count coffee as a meal, which Jamie knows Dani does. Blackbird makes sense; it’s on the way to the freeway that will lead them to the airport, it’s decently quick this early in the day, and their bagel sandwiches, though their names are a bit more pun-derived and clever than Jamie deems necessary, are delicious.

It’s too cold to sit outside and too crowded to sit inside, and anyway, Jamie doesn’t think she can bear to be around anyone but Dani right now, so, they hustle back to the pickup, bagel sandwiches and hot drinks in hand. Jamie relinquishes the parallel parking spot she’d scored just outside the coffee shop not so much out of good citizenship as a desire for additional privacy. She steers with one hand on the wheel while balancing her cup gingerly in the other, having removed the lid in order to cool the brew faster.

So focused is she on the tea – some self-protective part of her mind has inflated the issue of its temperature to distract from the actual present crisis of Dani’s impending departure – that she doesn’t realize where she’s navigating until the truck wheels crunch into a graveled parking spot. But sure enough, a right onto Sycamore, a left at the light onto 29th, and a turn up a sloping driveway in need of repaving have brought them to the back entrance of Central High School and into a lot overlooking the Home of the Colts. Just below, the grass of the football field is winter brown, the lights dead, the air silent and empty this off-season Sunday morning. But Jamie can smell the fresh-mown field in October, feel the glare of the lights in her eyes and the crush of the crowd at her back, can feel most of all Dani’s hand pulling her up off cold metal bleachers, forcing her to join in the call and response of the cheerleaders’ rhyme as their middling team takes the field.

She glances over to find Dani looking back at her with a lightly amused look on her face.

“Shit. Didn’t really mean to come here, was just looking for someplace quiet, and – ”

“And it felt right,” Dani finishes for her. She says nothing more, just unbuckles and slides across the seat to tuck herself closer into Jamie, who keeps the engine running for the heat but turns the radio off. No need for anything more in this moment than the sound of Dani’s voice, Dani’s breathing, Dani’s heart beating so close to hers. 

They sit that way for a while, occasionally taking a bite or a sip, but most of all just being close and quiet, absorbing each other’s company. The moment is nearly perfect, Jamie thinks, it would feel content, complete even, if not for the fact that she’s watching the clock on the dash to make sure they stay on track for Dani’s fucking flight. If not for the fact that they won’t get another moment like this, really like this, for at least a few weeks. Maybe not ever, if what’s transpired between them has indeed been magical, a spell cast and conjured by place-bound memory, too fragile to withstand cross-country flight and time-delayed texting as a primary mode of togetherness.

She’s sliding dangerously close to despair again when Dani lifts her head from where it’s rested on Jamie’s shoulder to look her in the face. Jamie expects an expression that matches her own thoughts – sad at a minimum, misery more likely – but once again, she’s caught off-guard in the most delightful way. Because Dani doesn’t look miserable, she looks…mischievous. Sly grin and raised eyebrows are matched with one finger tracing down the collar of Jamie’s flannel, visible underneath her halfway zipped coat, and dipping to trace her collarbone below the fabric.

“You know what I always wanted to do here?” Dani half-whispers up at her.

“I can only imagine.”

“Always wanted to make out under the bleachers,” Dani says, blushes a little and chuckles.

Now this, Jamie can’t believe. Dani was a good girl in high school, but she wasn’t a nun. “Come on, surely you and Eddie made your way down there at some point,” she argues.

“As a matter of fact, no,” Dani says, sassy in a way that makes Jamie want to both kiss her and pull the end of her ponytail, preferably at the same time, now she thinks about it.

“Behind the field house a few times, sure, but never there. Besides, even if we had, I’m not talking in general. I mean…” her voice dips in volume, but also into a lower pitch, her slight embarrassment no match for the heat behind what she’s divulging.

“I mean, I’ve always wanted to make out under the bleachers…with you.” She ducks her head as if to indicate Jamie, to make sure her point is clear, and Jamie’s mouth goes dry.

“Oh? I mean, um,” Jamie splutters. Why is this flustering her so badly? After having Dani in nearly every position imaginable, why is the suggestion of a simple make out doing this to her?

She realizes as her brain replays the statement.

“You…you’ve always? As in, thought about it before now?”

“Yeah,” Dani says. “I mean, always is maybe an overstatement – I’m sure it was somewhere in the back of my mind back then, but as we’ve discussed, I was pretty good at keeping those things buried. But I was definitely jealous of the girls you took under there yourself.”

Jamie gasps. “Who d’you mean? How’d you – ”

Dani shakes her head, chiding. “For one thing, Jamie, you were my best friend, you told me everything, or near enough. You told me about Rebecca, and that girl from the tennis team – was it Janelle?”

Jamie nods, caught – she barely remembers all these girls’ names, much less would expect Dani to. On a roll, though, Dani continues.

“For another, you were my best friend,” she repeats, “so I kept tabs on who you were looking at, even if you were trying to be sneaky. I was always jealous anytime you…had someone, even if I knew I wasn’t allowed to say so. And yes, I’m talking about Megan. I never said anything at the time, because I knew she’d be scared shitless if anyone knew. Actually admired the hell outta you for not telling anyone, even me,” she says with a hand to Jamie’s bicep that starts as an affectionate squeeze but morphs into a punch when she adds, “’cause she was hella hot.”

“Dani!” Jamie shouts in mock protest, but she’s grinning from ear to ear as Dani clears her throat, puts her shoulders back and continues, “So anyway, I think if we have time, if you think maybe, just so I can have it in my head properly now that’s it’s finally my turn…”

“You are unbelievable. And yes. Like you even needed to ask.” Jamie swings herself out of the truck in one motion, turns to pull Dani down after her. They run like they’re being chased, across the asphalt and onto grass crusted with hoarfrost, giggling puffs of visible breath.

Jamie’s feet find a route that is indeed still familiar, if stored in a long-ignored part of her brain. She leads Dani by the hand between the concrete blocks of the concession stand and the bathrooms, to the far left of the stadium to a footpath that cuts down the side of the stands to the track and field below. At the bottom of the hill, she catches hold of the cold metal of one of the bench seats just above her head and uses it to swing them underneath the structure.

It should feel juvenile, it should feel silly, but it doesn’t. Instead, as they pick their way among long-discarded drink cups and scattered cigarette butts to the very back of the bleachers, it’s as though they’re travelling back in time, the stripes of stripes of light and shadow passing beneath their feet the blinking of the seasons running backward.

When they’ve walked far enough to be well and truly under the bleachers, Jamie asks, “So what do we do, in this fantasy of yours?” even as she’s already backing Dani up against the cross bars and nudging at Dani’s neck with her mouth.

“Mmm, well, usually I’m wearing my track uniform, so it’s shorts – ” Dani begins.

“Oh I remember the shorts,” Jamie cuts in, temporarily stalling her progress pressing kisses to the side of Dani’s face, high on her cheekbones. “Bloody distracting those things were, swishing all over the damn place when you walked, never mind ran in them.”

Dani hums into Jamie’s skin with a grin. “Mmm, so you know then, how easy it’d be for you to just….slide your fingers underneath the bottoms of them.” And she nudges one leg up and around Jamie’s hips, teasing, for a few seconds.

Jamie takes the invitation for a moment, nipping at Dani’s ears and timing the flicks of her tongue with whole-handed squeezes of Dani’s ass and thighs through her jeans before breaking away.

“Okay, so, not to quibble, this is your thing we’re doing here,” Jamie says, “but one: this doesn’t sound like a make out, it sounds like we’re about to – not that I’m complaining – hook all the way up. And two: I know exactly how easy it was to touch you in those shorts, or do you not remember how many terrible cramps you had after your meets, you know, that required a little massage?”

“Fuck, I’d hoped you’d forgotten that.”

“Um, never?” Jamie is incredulous. “Bloody loved those nights. Felt a little bad for how much I enjoyed them, but would definitely never forget.”

Anyway.” If Dani is cowed by Jamie’s callout, it’s only in the most temporary sense. “Basically, you just take me down here and kiss me and touch me until…you know.”

“Until…we get caught? Until the bell for the next class?” Jamie asks, feigning obliviousness in an effort to tease Dani into an even more adorably flustered state.

Which fails, because what Dani does instead of blushing and spluttering is roughly hook her fingers into Jamie’s beltloops and pull her closer as she says, “Until I come. You touch me and kiss me until you make me come. In my fantasy, that is. In reality it’s until I make myself come, but that goes without saying I suppose.”

Oh.

“Fuck, Dani, you’ve been using this? You didn’t say it was an active fantasy!” Jamie is looking at her once again, as if with fresh eyes.

“Is that not what a fantasy is?!” Dani blushes to an additional shade of pink, but maintains eye contact. And fuck, this combination of bashful and brazen is working Jamie up far more than she’d planned on being on the literal grounds of a high school this morning.

“So, uh, any other spots I should know about? Places that I’m gonna get jumped to fulfill your teenage fantasies?”

“A couple,” Dani says, sly, winding one of Jamie’s curls around her index finger with a far-off look in her eyes.

Really? Jamie, somehow, still finds herself caught off-guard. “Like where?”

“Mmm, you’ll have to wait and find out,” Dani teases.

“Aw, you’re no fun,” Jamie says, though she knows that the way she’s pressing her hips forward into Dani, not to mention the smirk on her face, are directly contradicting this accusation. “Come on, share the visual!”

“Well…back row of the movie theater’s always a favorite,” Dani says, nonchalantly putting an image in Jamie’s mind that she’ll return to over and over for the next several months. “And oh! The playground at the park over on Franklin Street.”

Jamie can’t help it; she raises her eyebrows at that one. “Dani…you’re a little bit of an exhibitionist, aren’t you?”

 “At night, Jamie! When there’s no one else around!” Dani exclaims, but she bats her eyelashes as she says it.

“Well, all that, guess you’ve got a reason to come back to Davenport after all,” Jamie says.

“Oh, hush, you. I already did,” Dani says. “I always have.” She tosses her head so that her hair falls back from her face and licks her lips, lowering her gaze to catch Jamie’s mouth in a way that makes Jamie’s heart jump like they haven’t been having sex for several days straight, like she’s back to square one, or whichever square it was that she was occupying with low-key misery the night she last walked into Harrington’s.

And Dani must be experiencing much the same, because their game of teasing draws to a close at last when she fists both hands into the canvas of Jamie’s coat near the collar and pulls her in roughly for the long-promised kiss.

They collide like it’s a first time, like they are indeed teenagers skipping class, messy and hungry and racing to beat the clock. Dani’s hands wrapped round her neck are warm and firm, and when one of Dani’s teeth catch Jamie’s lip, the sting shoots directly to her core, stoking a hunger there that’s made all the fiercer by the fact that it can’t be fully sated in this context.

Still, Dani is moaning into Jamie’s kisses louder than she should, and Jamie isn’t being careful at all not to goad her on. Truthfully, she’s doing everything she can to draw more sounds of pleasure from between Dani’s parted, panting lips: she winds her fingers into Dani’s hair and pulls lightly as she switches the angle of their kiss; she rocks her hips into Dani’s, is in fact increasing pressure and speed. Dani is responding in kind, has just replaced her leg around Jamie’s hips, higher and harder this time, and Jamie is wrapping her hand around her thigh, scratching into the denim with short nails, when –

A sharp hollow slap directly above their heads tears them apart. A second, third, and fourth repetition of the sound follow and from where she’s frozen – one hand up Dani’s back and the other holding her thigh in place where it’s still hitched around her – Jamie watches a strip of soccer ball makes its way down the bleachers, followed shortly by loud metallic footsteps. A kid’s voice rings out: “Mom! There’s people under here! And I think they’re kissing!”

Dani’s eyes go wide. “Shit!” she whispers, even as she’s breaking into a smile and a deeper flush. “We gotta get outta here,” she giggles.  

“Shhh.” Jamie holds a finger against Dani’s mouth and slowly lowers her leg to the ground. “C’mon, this way.” She takes Dani’s hand and tugs her toward the opposite end of the bleachers as a second voice – this one from ground level, shrills “You kids come out right now! This is school property, not your bedroom, not that you should be – ”

Jamie doesn’t hear the rest of the diatribe; she’s too focused on dodging in and out of the poles supporting the stands, the only sounds her own hammering heartbeat, Dani’s breathy giggles, and the skitter of gravel under their soles as they run.

As they emerge out of the shadows and into the thin but strengthening midmorning sun, the world tilts, stills somehow. Jamie can’t explain it – can barely perceive it in the moment – but in an instant everything exists simultaneously: the people that she and Dani were when they met, when they truly, if they’re honest, fell in love; the people they’ve become and all the chances and accidents, happy or no, that have led them here; the people they could grow into, together, now that they’ve cleared the rubbish out of the way of their own intertwined paths.

And their paths must be intertwined by design, because a scrappy de facto orphan from a rat’s hole in the north of England has no business being in Iowa this slab-cold morning. Has no business being so encapsulated with family and belonging and purpose and sheer goddamn goodness; most certainly has no business being connected, by hand and by heart, to a girl who’s always outshone the sun above, unless it’s been ordained by Fortune herself.

And so, in this moment, it all coalesces into a solid something that slips under Jamie’s feet, carries her up the patchy-grassed hill on more than her own volition, and lands her back at her truck, panting and laughing and full of the certainty that the transformation of her story with Dani from what might’ve been to what could be is complete, is underway, is always being written and has always been assured.  

All of this melts and swirls within and around Jamie, and before she realizes it, the feelings are becoming thoughts and the thoughts are becoming words and the words are coming out of her mouth –

“God, I love you.”

Followed closely, as she crashes back into linear time, by “Fuck.”

From where she’s leaned against the passenger side door, she looks up at Dani, steeling herself for shock or disgust or at the least, surprise, and maybe if she’s lucky just gentle ridicule for what’s slipped out. But what she finds instead in eyes gone cornflower blue is warmth, knowing, home.

“I – I didn’t mean, I mean, it just – ” she stammers anyway, looks for somewhere else to put her gaze, her hands.

“Shut up. Of course you did,” Dani says. She grabs Jamie’s wrists, pulls her hands out from the pockets where Jamie’s stuffed them and into her own. “I love you, too. I just wasn’t sure we were allowed to say that yet.” She’s smiling, the simplest, most open expression Jamie’s ever seen.

“I, ha,” Jamie breathe-laughs, feels a matching smile bloom across her own face as the sheer relief gives way to something lighter, more unreal. “I didn’t think we were either, but, yeah, guess we are. Apparently.”

“I’m so glad,” Dani says, stroking across the backs of Jamie’s hands with her thumbs, “that we don’t have to wait. I’ve almost said it so many times already.”

“Really?” Jamie asks. “Me too. Like, so many.” Her mind reels thinking of the number of times she’s bitten down on, hushed, swallowed those sweet damning words in the past twenty-four hours alone, and she’d kill to know when Dani’s parallel moments were, if any of them happened in tandem.

“Mmm hmm,” Dani and maybe they’ll discuss that later, because right now she’s leaning in and pressing Jamie back against the truck, pausing just before she kisses her to say, right up against her lips, “I love you, Jamie Taylor. I’ve always loved you, but I love you more now than I ever did before.”

Jamie’s thankful she’s got the truck for support, because her legs go to jelly as she lets herself be swept up in Dani’s lips and tongue and most of all in the meaning of Dani’s words, because she feels the same way: she’s loved Dani for as long as she’s known her, but love is a living thing, as much so as the flowers in her nursery and the trees dancing overhead. Every stage of it is beautiful, but the progression is what makes it interesting, what makes it alive, and for too long her love for Dani has lain dormant, waiting, fallow, for a renewed season of growth.

And so, puritanical housewives be damned, they kiss in the parking lot for long minutes, until the bell from the Methodist church across the street intrudes with its noontime pealing.

“Shit,” Jamie says, turning her head gently and reluctantly to listen. “We have to go. Your flight’s in an hour.”

“No, no, I can miss it,” Dani protests, bites her lip, worry suddenly flooding her face where moments ago there was pure bliss. “Let me call them, I’ll stay another night, another week, I’ll – ”

Jamie is tempted, sorely so, but knows this isn’t the way; that they’ve got to deal with the reality of their situation sooner or later. Another night, another ten nights even, and they’ll be right back where they are now, being pulled apart and left wanting, only then it’ll be with some serious change fees that she knows Dani can’t actually afford on her TA stipend and the stress of several missed days of work for each of them. So, she leans forward to quiet Dani with a kiss and words that she wishes felt just a tad more true.

“No, baby. C’mon. The sooner you get home, the sooner we’re back together. Twenty-seven days.”

Dani’s mouth twists unhappily, but she nods.

“Give you time to get ahead on your work so we can spend more evenings together, too,” Jamie continues. “Plus, we gotta leave now if I’m gonna be able to walk you all the way in.”

The threat of a too-quick curbside drop-off is what finally coaxes Dani into motion. After one last gentle kiss (Jamie closes her eyes and wills her mind to imprint the exact pressure of Dani’s lips against her jawline, their exact temperature) before opening the truck door and climbing in.

-

The crash is tangible. A thick silence engulfs the cab of the truck as Jamie reluctantly turns the key, adjusts the heat settings to account for the loss of Dani on her skin, and navigates toward the highway. She hears Dani sniff once or twice, can’t be totally sure whether from their time spent in the cold or the agony of anticipating their time apart.

The crash is tangible but so is the buoyancy borne of being able to tangle her fingers with Dani’s and say with an impish grin, “Hey. I love you.” And even better, glancing over to see that Dani is smiling ear to ear, eyes crinkled at the corners, tongue poking between her teeth just before she says, “I love you too, dorkface.”

But then, there’s construction on the bridge across the river. Traffic is down to one lane and a line of cars stretches as far as Jamie can see, craning her neck over the steering wheel.

“Fuck,” she says, glancing at the digital clock on the dashboard. “At this rate you just might have to stay another night.”

“Wouldn’t be the worst thing,” Dani says, but Jamie can see that her knee is bouncing with anxiety about missing the flight.

“We’ll get ya there, babe,” she says reassuringly. To make the agonizingly slow crawl seem less so, she makes an effort to strike up real conversation again. “So, what do you think Kristin’s gonna say to all this?”

“Oh, you mean the fact that I not only Operation Ice Creamed you but also that we’ve planned several visits and also that we said I love you?” Dani lists with a shiteating grin that warms Jamie from the abdomen all the way up into her chest. “I think I’d better be prepared for some major teasing about being a big Uhauling lesbian stereotype.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” Jamie agrees, secretly turning somersaults at even the tangential suggestion that one day she and Dani might be driving home together to a home they share.

Ten minutes later, they’ve brainstormed all the things they’ll do when Jamie gets to LA – in a mere twenty-seven days, no less – and have also started to slowly accept that a curbside drop-off is all that’s in the cards today. Jamie has gradually let go of the image she’s been nursing like a wound: herself, standing on tippy toes at the escalator to security, waving until Dani is out of sight, holding back tears until she disappears.

Strange, she thinks, to grieve anticipated grieving this way. Strange that finding so much joy, (no, she remembers with a thrill, she can say it now, so much love) comes paired with so much loss. Bittersweet, she supposes, this is what bittersweet is. It’s not at all unfamiliar to her, but it’s been a while since it rode so close to the surface of her consciousness.  

Taking the final exit to the airport, following the signs to the annoyingly-monikered Kiss n Go Lane at Terminal B, walking around the truck to help Dani with her luggage and kiss her goodbye – their first of many, she thinks – is pure bittersweet.

Amid the car horns and plane engines and general clamor of the post-Christmas airport rush, Jamie sinks into a bubble of muffled quiet with Dani, bumping their noses together, gripping her waist with both hands, holding her close one more time to match their lips together, seeking heat in the cold wind.

One, two, three short kisses, and Jamie fits her hands to Dani’s forearms and decidedly steps back, gives Dani a nod and a final choked “Bye now. Better hurry along.”

Dani steps onto the curb, hoists her backpack onto one shoulder and grips the handle of her rolling suitcase like a lifeline, giving Jamie one more strained glance, jaw jumping and shoulders tense like she’s being held back from rushing right back into Jamie’s arms, and a mouthed Love you before turning on her heel and rushing through the glass doors and away.

-

She makes it home. She makes it back to her little blue house and in the door and to the kitchen before she breaks.  

What does it is Dani’s tea mug, which she’s washed and left in the dish drainer in not at all the spot that Jamie thinks is clearly meant for mugs, but rather canted at an awkward angle in the section where she usually puts the plates.

In an instant, she crumples, sits on the floor with the mug in her lap letting the sobs wrack through her, pushing against the cold linoleum with her knuckles until they ache about a tenth as much as her heart. When she runs out of tears, she sits, chilly despite not having removed her jacket or hat, and looks around her at the too-quiet, too-empty house that barely feels like just hers after a few days of sharing it with Dani.

She considers busying herself, catching up on laundry, even briefly thinks of going to the nursery to burn off some of the feelings lifting bags of heavy compost, but she knows – in fact, she hears Dani’s voice chiding her in her head – that it’s not a good idea for her to drive in this state.

Instead, she takes the Tupperware of cookies remaining from last night into her bedroom. She stands staring at the bed, knows she should change the sheets or at least be disgusted with herself for not doing so, but instead she’s protective of the fact that at least half the stains are from Dani – sweat, tears, and everything else they’ve poured out together over the past hours and days. She curls herself into a nest of the wrecked linens, head on a pillow that somehow smells of Dani’s hair even though she’s been using Jamie’s same shampoo, wraps herself around the unopened cookies, and waits for sleep.

Just as she’s about to drift off, the exhaustion from the late nights and her adrenaline crash doing her the favor of stealing her away from her miserable consciousness, her phone buzzes.

The message is, of course, from Dani (why had Jamie tortured herself by imagining she’d not text her as soon as possible?) and it brings a sunshower of simultaneous joy and agony. There’s a photo first, and Jamie cups the phone in both hands like a relic, gazing at it. Dani sits, tucked into herself in a window seat, clutching an obnoxiously large coffee. Her eyes are sleepy and red from crying, but she’s smiling gently, just the same face she makes at Jamie first thing in the mornings, and Jamie hums aloud at the image, can feel Dani’s soft breath, hear her drowsy laugh.

[Dani]

1:24 pm

Hey babe! Made it to the gate just
in time to get some REAL caffeine 😝

Hope you’re sleeping. We’re about to
take off, so I’ll call from LAX.

I love you 💜

The message makes Jamie all the sleepier herself, lulls her with its warm softness, and she types out her response with eyes half closed, ready now to greet sleep as a friend rather than a necessary evil.  

1:26 pm

I love you too 💚

Fly safe and I’ll talk to you later

Maybe we can finish what we
started under the bleachers? 😏

She assumes Dani’s plane has taken off, that Dani’s put her phone away, and so is surprised – elated, even – to see the three dots pop up once more, quickly followed by:  

I love you so much, Jamie. 

26.5 days. 💜💜